Saturday, 27 February 2016

delivery - the beast within

in hindsight i think delivery - the beast within is kind of an odd choice for the final film of my found footage blogathon, but i was putting it off because to be honest i find the whole idea of childbirth fucking terrifying. this film did nothing to allay those fears.

so it's about this couple, kyle and rachel, and they're having a baby and they agree to allow a documentary crew to film the process for a reality show. however, as the pregnancy advances the couple are plagued by strange incidents around the house and rachel begins to suspect there may be something seriously wrong with her unborn child.

first of all, it has to be said that the the reality show format is handled really well, to the point that if you missed the opening titles you would be forgiven for mistaking it for part of an actual tv series. i love the idea of someone turning on the tv and catching delivery in the middle of the opening act and mistaking it for a genuine reality tv show. the first act is essentially the full pilot episode of the fictional show and then from that point onwards the film is made up of unaired material and interviews with the producer. it's certainly one of the more authentic found footage movies i've seen and that makes it even more disturbing when the supernatural elements kick in. the filmmakers also do a nice job of keeping the involvement of the film crew believable - they are made to leave the room a couple of times and at one point are banned from filming altogether and that adds another layer of reality.

laurel vail and danny barclay are fantastic as the two leads and play a very believable couple. they do a great job of acting like two people who have known each other for a very long time, which can't be an easy thing to accomplish in something like this, and they also have to deal with some really tough moments as their characters. their conflicts are as realistic as their affections and this makes the film all the more painful to watch.

perhaps as a result of this increased focus on reality the horror element never felt that extreme to me. there are unexplained events unfolding on camera and some pretty extreme moments early on, but for the most part this is standard haunting stuff. one recurring scene i've come across in a few found footage horror films (most recently in the possession of michael king) is the part where the protagonists consult a sound engineer about a spooky sound caught on tape and he (always a he) confirms that this sound could not be made by a human voice. that happens in this film too, as well as doors slamming, sleepwalking, dogs acting weird and so on. in a way it escalates too soon because it never feels like it gets any worse than the first few incidents.

but then there is the ending, which i will not say anything about other than it is truly, truly shocking and a real gut punch to the viewer.

delivery - the beast within is one of the more technically amibiitious and convincing found footage films i've seen, and what it lacks in scares it makes up for in believability and a truly horrifying final scene.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

interview with warren dudley - director of the cutting room

warren dudley wrote and directed a rather creepy and effective found footage horror film called the cutting room, which i reviewed last week.

it turns out we follow each other on twitter so i asked warren if he would be up for answering a few questions about the film for my blog and he kindly agreed. here's the interview -

what made you decide to make a found footage horror film, and were you a fan of the format before you started?

I love the format yes. I think when it's done well (particularly with horror) that you can really take the audience to the centre of the story. The tunnels sequence at the end would not have been half as scary shot traditionally I don't think.

i feel like there's a misconception about found footage films that they're somehow easier to shoot. did you find anything about the process easier than shooting a more traditional feature, and equally was any of it more difficult than you thought it would be?

It's easier technically. If you set out to make a film look like it's been shot by students you take away a lot of the normal pressures regarding cinematography etc... however it can get boring and hard to watch pretty quickly if done badly. We tried to find a happy medium though and kept the camera fairly steady throughout.

how did you find the location for the end sequence, and was it as terrifying to film there as it looked?

The underground tunnels are at Newhaven Fort in Sussex.... my wife is the Events Manager there! It's always less scary when you are surrounded by a film crew however one night I was left on my own down there mopping up fake blood in the dark... not for the faint hearted!

The Fort is open to the public so you can visit the set if you like.

how did you find your cast, and what did you do to help them appear so natural on camera?

Casting Call Pro. We had 1,100 applicants for the three main roles. We saw about 20 people and Lucy, Lydia and Parry stood out... particularly during the improv stuff we asked them to do. We didn't rehearse much so their performances on set were lovely and natural.

You can see their first auditions on our 'Making Of' film on the DVD.

did you have a full script for the cutting room, or was some of it improvised?

It was about 90% scripted I think and a bit of ad libbing thrown in. I'm never precious with scripts. I'd rather actors felt natural with dialogue as long as the point gets across by the end of the scene.

what are some of your favourite horror films?

I'm a fan of the classic 70's horrors like The Omen, Rosemary's Baby etc. They evoke an unease that modern horror doesn't seem to do.

Oh and a mention for An American Werewolf in London. A classic of my youth. The tunnels stuff in TCR was my little homage to the London Underground scene in the movie!

did you have any issues or take any special precautions to record the sound? it seemed really clear throughout, which is impressive considering how much the camera is moving around.

Just a great sound recordist. It's one of the areas with low budget film that seems to always get forgotten, yet it's something an audience won't accept. So hats off to Kirstie Howell.

where did the idea for the story of the cutting room come from, and was any of it based on real stories?

Not based on any true stories no. Obviously the idea of three students making a film for college and getting caught up in a terrible situation is not a new one (Blair Witch!) So I just tried to give it a dreary British feel. We also didn't use a supernatural element which most FF films seem to fall back on. Our bad guy very real.

the killer has a pretty awesome mask. was that something you had designed for the film?

£8.99 paintball mask from eBay + stage blood and mud...!

what are you working on next?

My next feature is a Psychological Thriller called 'Cage' - due for worldwide release in the summer. It stars Lucy from The Cutting Room. Here's the trailer -

thanks to warren for agreeing to the interview and for providing an insight into the making of the film.

you can follow warren on twitter for more cutting room and cage news @warrendudley

also, check out the cutting room website for information on where to find the film.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

as above, so below

as above, so below is a film about archaeologist scarlett marlowe (perdita weeks) and her quest to follow in her father's footsteps and discover the fabled philosopher's stone. scarlett's expedition takes her to the catacombs beneath paris but she and her team soon discover that the stone is protected by ancient traps and malevolent forces.

i don't know if it was deliberate but both the dowdle brothers (who also made the excellent poughkeepsie tapes) and perdita weeks appear to be channelling lara croft here, and i don't mean that as a criticism because this is the best tomb raider film ever made. scarlett is a really cool character, with the knowledge and intelligence of sherlock holmes combined with the bravery and recklessness of indiana jones, but what weeks adds that really makes it work is some humanity and vulnerability.

as much as i'm a horror fan my favourite part of this film was the thirty minutes prior to scarlett descending into the catacombs beneath paris. i loved the way the mystery unravelled and how scarlett is so determined to succeed she doesn't mind destroying a few relics in the process. there's an energy to that opening which is perfect and really sets a great tone and pace for the rest of the film. scarlett's relationship with former lover george (ben feldman) works really well too and provides a nice story arc for both characters.

once the team find their way into the catacombs it becomes less tomb raider and more like the descent. there's a fantastically creepy moment with a group of underground cultists and a scene with a preserved templar corpse that could be a direct reference to the ending of indiana jones and the last crusade. there are also some cool scenes where the team have to figure out how to get out of certain rooms, usually by triggering some kind of ancient trap or mechanism. things escalate towards the end with zombie monks and living statues, all of which is handled really well and is suitably creepy as well as frantic and terrifying.

as well as the scares and the tomb raider tribute, there's also an interesting theme being explored here, about dwelling on past traumas and how (possible spoiler) you ultimately end up back where you started. i found the ending a little disappointing because i thought it was heading in a different direction, but then as my brother jack pointed out after we watched it there is something kind of refreshing about an ending with no surprises.

overall, i really loved this film. the dowdle brothers have clearly mastered the found footage format and manage to tell a compelling story with great characters whilst using the format to add a level of realism and kinetic energy that really makes it work.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Monday, 22 February 2016

the possession of michael king

the possession of michael king tells the story of a filmmaker determined to disprove the existence of the supernatural. to do so he puts himself through a couple of extreme black magic rituals and discovers too late that he has become living proof of the very thing he was trying to debunk.

the success of this film relies very much on the performance of shane johnson in the title role and our empathy with his character. johnson is onscreen for almost every minute of the film so it's a huge undertaking for him, especially considering the gruelling nature of some of the scenes. i never really thought about that while watching it though because it's the kind of performance that makes you forget you're watching a performance. it's almost as if johnson has been playing king as part of a one man show for years that is only now being filmed; there's a confidence and an authenticity to the way he plays the character that really resonates and suggests that there is much more to the character than what is scripted. most importantly johnson is charismatic and likable making it easier to get on board with his plan and follow him on the journey.

the writing here is also very strong when it comes to the character. we are first shown king with his wife and daughter, then in the next scene we discover his wife was killed in an accident that could have been avoided had she not taken advice from a clairvoyant. this gets us on side with king's crusade against belief in the supernatural immediately. giving king a daughter also adds a vulnerability to his character and raises the stakes as things begin to escalate.

the horror elements are handled really well and there are a few surprises, particularly with the use of ants to indicate the possession becoming worse. the necromancy and demon summoning rituals king subjects himself to are both really effective and the necromancy ritual in particular was something I haven't seen on film before. my only reservation is that for me it all escalated far too quickly. given that this is a story about a sceptic i was expecting a more subtle introduction of the supernatural elements when in fact king gets what is essentially definitive proof well within the first 30 minutes of the film.

that said, the possession of michael king has a strong premise and a great central performance, both of which make this one of the more accomplished and interesting found footage horror films i've seen.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Friday, 19 February 2016

the cutting room

the cutting room is a british found footage film about three teenage media students tasked with making a documentary by their college tutor, himself a failed filmmaker. in addition, the tutor asks them to document the filmmaking process, hence the perfect set-up for a found footage film. the students decide to tackle cyberbullying as their subject matter but their investigation soon leads them into dangerous territory.

from the opening minutes the cutting room looks as though it's going to be a rather grim torture porn movie set in a creepy location. there is a sub-genre of horror that i'll call location-inspired horror, where the filmmakers have found a cool location and decided to set an entire film there. thankfully, that's not the case here. writer/director warren dudley instead spends time developing the characters and the story first, pulling back on the horror until the last possible moment and this really pays off.

the three main characters, charlie (lucy-jane quinlan), jess (lydia orange) and raz (parry glasspool) are all really likable and the cast do a great job making them feel real. there's a perfect naivety in the script and the performances that makes it totally believable that these characters would plunge themselves into a highly dangerous situation without fully considering the consequences. there's a great scene where the three are discussing possible topics for their documentary and it really reminded me of working on similar college projects myself without any thought of the practicalities.

the investigation into cyberbullying and one case in particular is actually the most enjoyable portion of the film and there's a nice balance between showing that these kids have no idea what they're doing and also having them make some genuine progress. at the same time there's a sense of constant creeping terror as they move closer to the truth, or at perhaps the truth moves closer to them. all this builds to a third act finale where full use is made of the aforementioned creepy location.

the cutting room perhaps isn't as innovative or ambitious as some of the films i've reviewed recently, but it is a well-produced and effective horror film bolstered by a talented cast and an interesting location so it's definitely worth seeing.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

fixed bayonets!

fixed bayonets! is set during the korean war and follows a small unit of u.s. soldiers left behind to stall enemy forces to give a larger division time to advance. the story focuses on inexperienced corporal denno (richard basehart), a man wrongly believed to be a hero when in fact he is unable to pull the trigger when faced with an enemy, and his relationship with his superior, sergeant rock (gene evans).

i've never been all that interested in war films, but anything directed by samuel fuller is worth a watch. shock corridor is one of my favourite films and remains the most terrifying film about mental illness that's ever been produced. i'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but one flew over the cuckoo's nest has nothing on shock corridor. fuller also directed forty guns, which i love and reviewed here, and was still making great films towards the end of his career with the big red one and the controversial white dog. the thing about fuller and the reason his movies are still remembered and re-released is that there's always something a little different about them. he doesn't make a standard western or a standard war film, there's always an element of fuller magic that puts a different, usually darker, spin on things.

i'm no expert, but as a war film fixed bayonets! is pretty effective. it reminded me of that documentary restrepo, where the filmmakers follow one unit for a year in the same location. this had that same sense of pointlessness and isolation. essentially rock and denno and their men are trapped on the side of a mountain for pretty much the whole film and there's a constant threat of gunfire at all times. there's a realism to this, but also there's something a but existential about it with the men constantly questioning why they're doing what they are doing and what it means to be a solider.

there are some fantastically tense scenes, including a moment where denno has to cross a minefield to rescue a wounded comrade. there's also a really thrilling battle with a tank at the end of the film. however, the real highlight for me was one of the stranger moments, when one of the characters (i won't reveal which one) effectively predicts his own death. he describes to the men what he would do if he were the enemy, and the whole time he's talking about it we're watching an enemy soldier as he actual does it, following the prediction word for word. it's a weird moment of almost magic realism and it's kind of sad and beautiful at the same time.

fixed bayonets! is a solid war film and there are things to enjoy here whether you're into the genre or not. however, it also has some moments of sheer samuel fuller genius and for that reason it's worth checking out.

fixed bayonets! was released in a dual format (blu-ray and dvd) edition by eureka entertainment on 15th february 2016

Wednesday, 17 February 2016


mockingbird is a found footage film with a high concept premise. three people receive a box with a video camera inside. the camera is already recording and they can't switch it off. later, they receive a message that states keep filming or die. they are given clues to follow, and over the course of one evening they are manipulated by an unseen presence until all the characters finally cross paths with devastating consequences.

mockingbird is directed by bryan bertino who also directed the strangers. i really liked the strangers. i know it's a film that divided audiences, as i imagine this one does, but for me the idea that the home invaders weren't motivated by anything and possibly didn't really exist was really fascinating. it was an old fashioned horror film told with an art film aesthetic and i love anything that pushes the boundaries of the horror genre like that. mockingbird does exactly the same thing.

the closest comparisons to mockingbird are probably the saw films. here there's the same idea of a riddle with fatal consequences and questions around the motivation of the antagonist - are they trying to prove a point and how are the victims connected? at the same time, there is an atmosphere and a style to this film that makes it an innovative if difficult watch. bertino never breaks from the format, keeping us at arms length throughout the film with the only suggestion of someone driving the narrative coming from the title cards that divide each chapter. it's a hard film to enjoy because it never feels like characters are getting anywhere; the film is lead by the antagonist and at a certain point it feels like the characters as well as the audience simply have to wait to see what is in store for them. while unconventional, this lack of character arc or development is intentional and does succeed in putting the audience in exactly the same position as the characters. for me it works, but i can see how others may find it frustrating.

from a technical standpoint, mockingbird is one of the most accomplished found footage films i've seen. bertino does something really clever with music, in that the only music we hear is being played in the actual scenes themselves. at one point he cuts between three cameras in one location and the music jumps, showing that we're still listening to the music in the room, not on a soundtrack. it's a small detail, but it reinforces to bertino's conviction to the format and adds to the atmosphere.

of the films i've watched so far, mockingbird is the most challenging but also the most interesting. i really liked bertino's take on the format, and it shows that with a little thought and conviction there are endless possibilities for the found footage horror film.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

europa report

europa report takes the form of a documentary about the the crew of europa one and their mission to explore the outer reaches of our solar system in search of life. their destination as the title suggests, is europa, one of jupiter's moons and one of the few planets capable of supporting life due to the presence of water on its surface. naturally, things do not go to plan.

europa report is probably more sci-fi than horror, although there is a horror element. it's a very well-made film, the set in particular has clearly had a lot of effort put into the detail and it's necessary because we spend most of our time there. the performances are great too, particularly from daniel wu and sharlto copley who kind of play opposites in that one is all about the mission and the other is all about the experience. there are some very tense moments, basically any time anyone does anything outside the spacecraft, and there is a constant sense of human beings trying to explore somewhere that we're not physically equipped to explore. they shouldn't be there, not in space and certainly not on the surface of europa, and the filmmakers never allow us to forget that.

my only really issue with europa report was that it felt a little like i'd seen it all before. it's all handled really well, and the found footage element i suppose allows it to be a film on the scale of something like gravity without access to the same budget, but i'm not sure that this film was really doing anything that other films haven't already done, even going back to the sci-fi movies of the fifties. the found footage format doesn't add all that much, if i'm honest, because there are so many cameras in the spaceship that it feels like a conventional film most of the time anyway. when the crew arrives at their destination there are some really interesting scenes, and without wanting to spoil it the way that what they find on the planet is handled is unexpected and interesting. that said, it felt to me like this is a film that couldn't decide where it wanted to be - was it a serious space expedition drama or a sci-fi monster movie? it's a film that falls somewhere between gravity and alien, and that's fine but at times it feels like it needed to have decided one way or another.

i really enjoyed europa report, i think the cast and the filmmakers did an excellent job of showing me what it was like to travel into deep space, i think the ending is really good and definitely satisfies the promise of the premise. at the same time i felt like it was missing something and occasionally its commitment to authenticity was at the expense of a persistent narrative.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Monday, 15 February 2016


afflicted follows two friends, derek and clif (played by real-life friends derek lee and clif prowse), who decide to quit their jobs and travel the world whilst capturing the whole trip on video. however, their trip is cut short when derek begins to exhibit strange behaviour following an encounter with a mysterious woman in paris.

after a cool, light-hearted intro that instantly makes us like the two characters things soon take a turn for the worse. it's hard not to talk about what type of film this without spoiling it, so if you are really thinking of watching afflicted, and it is worth checking out, you should consider skipping the rest of this review.

basically, this is a vampire film. derek is bitten by a vampire in paris and proceeds to turn over the next few nights. as such, the film follows much the same structure as most vampire/werewolf films. there's the initial panic over having been bitten, then there's the odd behaviour like not being able to eat solid food and cooking in the sunlight, and then there are the unexpected benefits like super strength and speed. there is a catch to the benefits, of course, and we all know what that is.

as a vampire story, afflicted offers nothing new to the genre. guy gets bitten, realises what he is, has to either figure out a way to fix it or learn to live with it. so far, so lost boys, but what's great about afflicted is the way it tells the story. this is a film that uses the found footage format to its full potential and is all the better for doing so. not only is there a good reason for the format being in place but it also never breaks perspective. as the film progresses and derek's powers become more pronounced there are some rather spectacular p.o.v. moments including several rooftop chases in which derek basically leaps tall buildings with a camera attached to his chest. there are some truly breathtaking moments in the action and they are completely unexpected and yet totally in keeping with the world and the characters the filmmakers have established. there is also some really cool effects work in this film and again, the fact that we're watching it on a shaky handheld camera adds to authenticity and impact of those shots.

overall, there is nothing new here in storytelling terms but one thing afflicted certainly does achieve is to justify and show the possibilities of the found footage format. if you're someone who doens't like found footage films particularly then this is the film i'd recommend watching first because it's the closest thing to cinema-as-rollercoaster that you will have seen in the horror genre.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post at the end of the month. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

samurai cop 2: deadly vengeance

i watched samurai cop with some uni friends a few years ago. it was after a night out and we were pissed and bored and desperate to be entertained. samurai cop is certainly entertaining. it's the best type of bad movie because everyone involved is taking it so seriously. that's what makes it work. i don't remember much about the film, to be honest, but i remember we all had a really great time that night. there's something beautiful about bonding with friends over a good bad film. so when i heard there was going to be a screening of samurai cop 2 at the prince charles cinema and that not only did it feature the same guy, mathew karedas, as the lead but also that tommy wiseau plays a bad guy in the movie i knew had to see it.

my concern with samurai cop 2 was that it would be too knowing and there's an element of that, certainly - mark frazer (who plays samurai cop's partner, frank) even winks at the camera a couple of times - but there is something else going on too. you could say that samurai cop 2 doesn't work. the joke is that it exists at all, but faced with watching 90 minutes of something that's almost trying too hard to be terrible that joke stops being funny rather quickly. however, there is something more interesting going on beneath the surface, because ultimately samurai cop 2 is trying to work in an entirely different space to its predecessor.

the original samurai cop works because it doesn't work. as karedas said in his introductory q and a last night, they wanted to make lethal weapon. the fact that they didn't have the budget or talent to make lethal weapon but that they tried anyway it was makes it so enjoyable. with samurai cop 2, there is ambition here. there are some incredible designs, particularly in the costumes and there's an energy to it that really works at times. this is a film that feels like it's trying to be something more than a parody of a bad 90s movie. it feels like it's striving to be some kind of arthouse study of the cheap hollywood knock-off. it forces the audience to ask, 'why the fuck am i watching this?' which leads to the question 'why do we watch movies at all?'. it's like the birdman of the vhs era. there is an intention here to make something interesting and complex and transcendent, but in having such ambitious goals it fails completely and instead becomes this kind of loud, colourful mess.

samurai cop 2 isn't attempt to make a quality action movie that failed, it's an attempt to make an existential arthouse movie and that's the part that fails and that's also what makes it work. this is why casting tommy wiseau is such a genius move on paper - the room was an attempt at making a serious art film that fails spectacularly, so it makes perfect sense to case wiseau in an existential art film about bad 90s knock-off action movies. except it fails, because they case tommy wiseau, who proceeds to do whatever the fuck he wants in every scene he's in. then bai ling turns up looking like she stepped out of a william gibson novel, says something weird and shoots a big, phallic gun. cut to mathew karedas swinging a sword around on a beach, then mark frazer wandering around looking confused and repeat the above until nothing makes sense anymore. there are so many ideas onscreen that it just doesn't work; it never holds together and at best it feels like some kind of hallucinatory fever dream in which bad 90s knock-off action movies are somehow the most important thing in the world. samurai cop 2 fails, but it fails with style and that's all i could ever ask for from a sequel to samurai cop.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

wild orchid

wild orchid is a kind of sex drama about young attorney emily reed (carre otis) and her relationship with eccentric millionaire wheeler (mickey rourke). it transpires that emily's boss, claudia (jacqueline bisset) once lusted after wheeler but he refused to touch her, so she sets him up with emily to discover whether the problem was just her or all women. however, as emily grows closer to wheeler she discovers that his issues with sex and women may be far more deep-rooted and complex than anyone could have predicted.

i'll be honest, i had a hard time with this film. there are things to like, i mean it looks fantastic and it made me want to go to rio. it's nice to see young mickey rourke in stuff, although i find him far too menacing to play a sensitive romantic lead. there are some incredible party scenes and there is a palpable sense of decadence throughout, but as you may be able to tell from the plot description, there isn't much of a story. my favourite part was when bruce greenwood turned up, because he's one of those actors that improves any film he's in by at least twenty per-cent and he was by far the coolest thing in this film.

i'm not even sure what to compare this too. i guess basic instinct is the closest comparison, but without the thriller element. i haven't read or seen fifty shades of grey but i imagine there are some similarities, which is perhaps why this film is being released on blu-ray right now. i guess that's the audience that would enjoy this kind of thing but i'm not sure. i have no idea who they were aiming for at the time. i might be able to understand it from an exploitation perspective, but there's not even that much sex in the film. i mean, there's probably more sex than people were used to seeing onscreen in 1989, i wouldn't know, but for a film which is essentially all about sex, there isn't much sex in it, and what sex we do see isn't particularly interesting.

the fact is, the characters in this film are incredibly dull. emily is the erotic fiction version of a mary sue, because she's this hot-shot lawyer whom everyone is in love with and she's maybe 19 years old, if that. wheeler is supposed to be a poor kid who made his fortune fixing up houses and has now seen and done so many things he's bored of life and has to amuse himself by 'playing games' with people. his games mostly involve him being a bit creepy and annoying. there is zero chemistry between otis and rourke (ironic considering they were married not long after this film) and because they are both so lifeless i had no interest in seeing them fuck.

part of me wonders if wild orchid has simply dated badly. i think there's supposed to be a sense of the taboo in what emily and wheeler are doing, although i don't really see how. wheeler often appears with a rosary in his hand, suggesting there's some religious message i missed, or perhaps simply that he's constantly atoning for his sins. this sets up a false hope for some kind of intrigue to his character, but ultimately he's just a bored rich guy who doesn't like touching women.

the one part of the film i did like was the relationship between claudia and emily. claudia was probably the most interesting character in the film and bisset plays her with a real sense of someone who is clinging on to their lost youth. there's a great sequence in which claudia and emily go to a business deal dressed as men, i forgot why, but they do actually look pretty cool and it's the only time the film surprised me.

there are things about wild orchid that make it a worthwhile watch, mostly the scenery but it is also kind of interesting as a curiosity piece. that said, i found it tough going, and to be honest if you really want to watch a film about sex and taboo i'd sooner recommend all four hours of nymphomaniac or anything by catherine breillat instead of this.

wild orchid will be released on blu-ray by eureka entertainment on 8 february 2016

Friday, 5 February 2016

evil things

evil things has a fairly typical horror set-up - five college students head out on vacation to the middle of nowhere. in this film, they are tormented by a mysterious, unseen stranger in a big black van who tries to run them off the road and later creeps around their house filming them while they sleep. the torment doesn't stop there.

at first evil things seems like it's going to be the same as every other horror movie and exactly the type of film that cabin in the woods parodied so perfectly. however, there is something very different about this film and it's hard to place at first. basically, there is something about the characters and the performances of the actors that makes this film seem very real. so there are three girls and two guys, but these are not your stereotypical slasher victims. there's no jock, no nerd, no cheerleader - they look like real people and they act like it too.

interestingly, director dominic perez chooses not to film the characters for the first ten minutes or so, instead focusing on the road and only allowing us to hear their voices. it's actually a surprise when the guy with the camera, leo, turns the camera around to reveal there are three people sitting on the back seat of the car. it's a nice moment because it feels real; it feels more natural that leo doesn't film the others as soon as they climb into the car. this naturalism continues throughout the first forty-five minutes of the film, and of all the films i've watched recently the one it reminded me of most was the 'hypereal' starvecrow, which focused almost entirely on naturalism in its performances. the difference is, i cared more about these characters. they seemed like nice people; people i would like to hang out with. that's ultimately what makes the film work.

i don't want to spoil the ending, but once things kick off and the stranger inevitably comes to the house there are some cool moments but the whole thing is over too quickly. there's also a really unnecessarily long post-credits sequence showing all the footage the stranger filmed, which i didn't really need to see. to be honest, the third act of this film feels about twenty-minutes too short and without the elongated credits it would probably be a sixty-minute movie.

despite a disappointing ending, evil things is still an enjoyable film and it was really nice to see some realistic characters in something like this for a change.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

the sacrament

the sacrament follows a photographer, patrick (kentucker audley), who receives a letter from his sister claiming she has joined some kind of cult and she wants him to visit. thinking she needs rescuing, patrick decides to take her up on her offer but brings two journalists with him to film the process, sam (a.j. bowen) and jake (joe swanberg). at first the group her sister has joined seems too good to be true, but then they discover a darkness beneath the seemingly perfect surface.

one thing i love about ti west is that he knows how to take his time getting to a story, and i mean that as a compliment. i love house of the devil. it's a film in which the main character walks around an empty house for the majority of the running time, and it's kind of perfect. the sacrament is no different - it's not until the fifty-minute mark that the problems with the cult begin to surface, and yet this rather unnatural elongating of the first act really works. it's almost like west uses a two act structure rather than the traditional three, because the break into the second act seems to happen just as we're getting into the third.

anyway, the first fifty minutes of this film are amazing. the performances are great, i believed in the characters and loved the fact that there's this tension bubbling beneath the surface throughout. it being a horror film it's obvious there will be something wrong, but like the best horror films the tension comes from guessing what exactly will go wrong and whether the characters will work it out in time. once things do go wrong, i started to lose interest.

the big problem for me was that the moment things kick off the format is practically abandoned. one of the characters still has his camera, but the other one loses his to one of the cult members. this person who steals the camera, someone who has never really used a camera before, then proceeds to film the most professional looking scene ever, with multiple angles and everything. there's no way it would have been filmed like that, and it's a real shame because it totally took me out of the story. the thing that's so disappointing about that moment is that it seems so unnecessary - i would have had no issue watching the scene through a series of shaky, handheld shots and in some ways that would have made it even more disturbing. instead, the found footage aspect is abandoned and we're watching a proper film again.

my other issue is that i wanted there to be more to the story. there are some nice, subtle hints about what the cult is up to and in some ways i liked that it wasn't spelt out, but at the same time the end result felt a bit derivative to me. to me the scary thing about a cult is the fear that they could be right. i loved the ending of red state, except it undermined the perfect ending by having another ten minutes of ending, but there's that moment (spoiler) where you think god has turned up to sort things out and the crazies were right all along. that's terrifying to me, and the sacrament did look like it was headed in that direction at one point. but no, this time the crazies are just crazy.

the sacrament is still a great film, particularly for the first hour, and there are some quite shocking surprises towards the end. also, i do think ti west has a really unique style so it's always worth watching his films.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

the visit

so it's been a while since i loved anything by m. night shyamalan, but the visit is his best film in years, possibly ever. and i say this as someone who actually kind of liked signs.

the film follows a brother and sister, becca and tyler, who are going to stay with their grandparents for a week. the problem is, they've never met their grandparents before and their mother isn't going with them. not long after their arrival they begin to suspect something may not be quite right with their new relatives, and they decide to investigate.

the visit has one of the best conceits for the found footage format in that fifteen-year-old becca is a film geek who wants to make a documentary about meeting her grandparents for the first time, as well as uncovering the secret reason her mother won't speak to them anymore. firstly, i loved that it was the sister who was the film geek and not the brother, even if she did seem more knowledgeable about documentary filmmaking than all my film theory lecturers combined.  however, the main advantage is that it excuses all kinds of ridiculous behaviour that we just wouldn't stand for in other horror movies. this is a kid with a camera - of course she's going to film the crawlspace under the house, that's what kids do!

the film also has a really nice build-up and keeps you guessing as to what the problem with the grandparents really is. like the taking, some of the horror in the visit comes from the idea of getting old and what it's like living with people who are no longer in control of their actions. there's also a nice comparison between the problems, both physical and mental, that the grandparents have compared to the insecurities the kids have. then things escalate and it gets a bit too ridiculous for my tastes, but it was still a cool ride.

this was one of the more solid films i've seen with great performances throughout and a masterclass in building suspense. it loses something when you find out what's really going on, but the journey to that point really makes this film worthwhile

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Monday, 1 February 2016


starvecrow is a film made up entirely of mobile phone videos and cctv footage, mostly the former. it tells the story of ben, a control-freak who films everything, and jess, his girlfriend who is just out of rehab. there is also a group of younger characters planning a party in the huge country house belonging to their parents. when ben finds out that jess is planning on going to this party and he isn’t invited he decides he’s going to crash it anyway, and this is where things start to get a bit dark.

of all the found footage films i’ve watched this past week, starvecrow has been the most unsettling and the only one to actually give me nightmares (i woke up convinced there was someone trying to get into the house). it doesn’t feel like a horror film in the traditional sense, but at the same time there are some typical horror elements – a ouija board, dead animals turning up all over the place and a particularly creepy home invasion scene, that last one being the part that really got to me. there are also some slasher movie elements but you can't really describe it as a slasher film. the fact that it's all filmed on mobile phones does add a reality to it that's missing from similar films, and the actors do an amazing job of maintaining this reality. in fact, i can't say enough about how great the actors are in this film. it never feels forced or overly performed and yet the actors have to get through some very tough scenes so it really is an impressive piece of work on that front.

the makers of starvecrow claim that this the world’s first ‘selfie’ movie and part of a pioneering new film movement called ‘hypereal’. while there is something unique and refreshing about the style of the film, i think that comes from the refusal to present narrative coherence rather than the way in which it is filmed. it’s fairly common in the found footage medium to mix footage from mobile phones with cctv as well as footage filmed on actual cameras. starvecrow even goes out of its way to justify the fact that everything we're seeing has been filmed on phone cameras, with ben insisting he has a disorder that means he has to film everything and then later stating that the younger characters film everything anyway. this repeated explanation of why we're seeing what we're seeing is a staple of the found footage format. what seems different here is that we are made to piece the story together ourselves which gives it more of a sense of a random collage of clips from which a story emerges. that said, we are led to follow a very deliberate route with voiceover from ben’s session with a therapist helping to fill in the blanks. in a way this addition of what is essentially a voiceover narration makes starvecrow more like a traditional film than any of the other found footage films i’ve seen recently.

on this point, ben has an interesting bitterness about the fact that he is seen as a freak for constantly filming and yet the kids get away with it. as mentioned above, he claims that the kids are filming each other all the time so when he steals their phones he has access to their whole lives. to prove his point, ben states that the kids will pay hundreds of pounds to go to a gig only to film it on their phones. while there is some truth in this, in my experience it’s the older people at gigs usually doing the filming. the kids are mostly down at the front enjoying the experience. if i’m honest, this whole theme of selfie-obsessed teens felt a bit like my dad watched a zoella video and decided all kids everywhere have decided to view life through the screen of their iphone. i’m older than the younger characters in this film, but it did feel like ben’s scorn was directed at youtubers like me to some extent. there’s a sort of older generation paranoia to this and i’m wary of making the mistake of thinking the voice of the main character is the voice of the filmmakers, but the paranoia seemed out of place coming from a character who can’t be much older than i am. and yes, i perhaps am taking this too personally, but this is a very confrontational film at times.

although it seems completely different on the surface, the film this reminded me of most was the houses of halloween. there’s an intimacy to the party scenes that reminded me of the five friends partying as they crossed the states. the difference is that i cared more about what happened to the people in that film. here, director james carver makes it incredibly difficult for us to care about anyone. the central theme of the film is that everyone is hiding their true selves and beneath the surface we all have secrets, most of which we record on our phones. this theme suits the medium really well because what we’re seeing feels so real and this makes it all the more shocking when we are shown the truth about the characters. it also makes starvecrow a rather nihilistic and, as i said, confrontational experience. it reminded me of lars von trier's more divisive works, like breaking the waves or the idiots, like it’s almost daring the audience to be offended.

i wasn’t offended, but i did find certain elements of the film problematic. there’s a moment where ben says something about how messed up these kids are when you scratch beneath the surface, and we do see them abuse each other in some quite shocking revelatory scenes. my issue is that it’s not all of them, as ben states, it’s just the men. the men are the ones delivering the abuse, there’s not one male character in the film who comes off okay. meanwhile, the women exist only to suffer. they are victims of abuse, whether it’s psychological or physical. i’m on board with the idea that people are messed up - unfriended did a fantastic job at portraying this in a way that was much less extreme and confrontational and yet just as shocking. what i’m not comfortable with is the idea that all men are abusers and all women are victims and that certainly appears to be the case in the world this film shows us.

despite some of the problems i had with the film, starvecrow is as fascinating as it is challenging. there is a complexity and ambition to this project that demands admiration and while i’m not that comfortable with some of the ideas presented on screen it is refreshing to see a film that has such an intentionally antagonistic relationship with its audience. in addition, for the horror fans there are some truly unsettling scenes here that will really get under your skin. i would say it’s definitely a film worth seeing, just be away that it’s occasionally a bumpy ride.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.