Posts Tagged ‘horror’

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I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore

We typically have to wait almost a year — or more — for the public at large to see the big winner from the Sundance Film Festival. But not only is “I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore” out less than two months after snagging the Grand Jury prize in Park City, its also viewable from the comfort of your home due to Netflix scoring the distribution rights.

Starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, IDFAHITWA sees a woman shaken out of a rut after a break-in at her home triggers a compulsion to pursue justice. It’s also the directorial debut of Macon Blair, best known for his acting collaborations with director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Blair borrows from Saulnier’s style of minimalist, organic and unflinching violence, but also injects his feature with a heavy doze of sardonic humor. The result is something like a marriage of hipster comedy and Coenesque drama and shows a lot of promise for an emerging multi-hyphenate storyteller.

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Mascots

If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest…well, you’ve probably seen Mascots already. But otherwise you should know that the team behind the mockumentaries Best in Show, A Mighty Win and Waiting For Guffman have a Netflix Original film about the cutthroat world of competitive Mascot-ery.

To  be sure, Mascots is a lesser-Guest. But it is still hilarious in its survey of bizarre, pseudo-surrealist characters, like Chris O’Dowd’s Tommy ‘Zook’ Zucarello, who performs as “The Fist” for a hockey team, and whose every action in the musculatured foam hand suit is a master class is sight gags.

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Burn After Reading

Speaking of Coenesque, and lesser-entries, “Burn After Reading” may not be the strongest entry in the Joel and Ethan Coen canon, but don’t let that stop you from its unique pleasures, number one on that list being that fully-committed and unbelievably ludicrous performance of Brad Pitt as a pompadoured buffoon of a personal trainer.

Combining gym rats, DIY sex toys and international espionage in a way that only the Coens can, “Burn after Reading” wrings gallons of humor out of a few ounces of its characters poor decision-making.

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It Follows

The horror genre is experiencing something like a creative renaissance, and just in the nick of time. After 2004’s “Saw,” there was a decade in which horror producers were arms-racing each other to up the ante on torture porn. Thankfully, the trends are showing sign of shifting back toward risk-taking and storytelling, and there’s perhaps no better example of that New-School thank the incredible “It Follows” (which, as you may recall, was among my picks for the 10 best films of 2014).

As both an homage and a satire of classic scarers, It Follows takes the trope that in horror, sex = death, and stretches it to its logical extreme. Its antagonist is a loosly-defined specter that relentlessly pursues its victims as they pass its curse from one to another through sexual intercourse. You can survive by passing “it” on to someone else, but if “it” gets them, then you’re back at the top of the list, being followed again.

The device is incredibly effective as “it” shapeshifts through various forms, visible only to the infected. It causes the viewer to dart their eyes around the screen, looking for anyone who seems out of place, or a little *too* determined in their gait. Layer on top a gorgeous, pulpy style full of neon lighting and synth-pop atmosphere and you have a cinematic experience that leaps above the rest.

 

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The horror genre so often relies on quick scares over storytelling that its films are typically disposable: a bundle of jumpy reveals with immediately diminished returns.

That’s why, when a horror movie comes along that both frightens and entertains it can feel like a singular emotional event, playing ping-pong with the senses as the audience trades shrieks of terror with nervous, relieving laughter.

After what felt like an eternity of the genre being dominated by shallow torture-porn, it’s heartening to see horror in the midst of a quality renaissance. Your mileage may vary, but look no further than indies The Babadook and It Follows, as well as the more mainstream Conjuring franchise for evidence of what an innovative and thoughtful horror director can do.

The latest in the latter series is The Conjuring 2, a continuation of the haunted house investigations of true life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren. The film picks up with the couple at the tail end of their most famous case, the Amityville massacre and subsequent haunting of the Lutz family, before skipping across the pond for a dramatization of the Enfield Poltergeist, which saw a family of Londoners tormented by bumps in the night.

Part of what makes the Conjuring films work is the savvy use of the Warrens as protagonists, played by Patrick Wilson and Bates Motel’s Vera Farmiga. Like its predecessor, the film splits its time between a ghost-weary family and their spiritual exterminators, who themselves are increasingly weary of the toil their work takes on them.

Farmiga, in particular, shines in Conjuring 2. Her Lorraine Warren is equal parts exhausted by and leery of her visions, which have turned increasingly dire of late as she sees repeated manifestations of a demon that appears to have her husband in its crosshairs. She’s prodded to assist in the London case by an insistent Ed and her own nagging sense of responsibility, but her uncertainty underscores the fear that this time, maybe things don’t work out so well.

Better still is the clever, almost sleight-of-hand directing of James Wan, who ironically birthed the Saw franchise that came to represent both the highs and gratuitous lows of the genre. In Conjuring 2 he is considerably more subdued, and the film is better for it, as the camera slowly and fluidly tip-toes down hallways and around corners, forcing the eye to dance along the edge of the screen anticipating the slightest manifestation of otherworldly menace. He’s also unafraid to stage one of his most effective sequences in daylight, the calling card of a confident and disciplined horror director.

The case itself packs less of a punch than the Salem-adjacent goings on of the original film. And Conjuring 2 breaks its winning streak of practical effects for a few instances of unconvincing and ineffective CGI. But for fans of the genre, and casual moviegoers looking for a fun scare, you’d be hard pressed to find a better offering in theaters this year.

Grade: B+

*The Conjuring 2 opens nationwide on Friday, June 10.

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*Note: This review was first published during coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

[Update:] After further reflection, I’m awarding a Wood’s Stock Honorable Mention to The Babadook as Best Horror Film of 2014.

This Aussie horror, which was part of the traditionally edgy and offbeat Sundance At Midnight category in 2014, sees Essie Davis as Emelia, a single mother struggling with the behavioral quirks of her son Samuel while also grieving the loss of her husband. Samuel’s dad died in a car crash the day Sam was born and it is implied that every year on the anniversary of both her son’s birth and her husband’s death Amelia slips into a period of morose depression, which is further exacerbated by her son’s childhood fears of monsters under the bed.

But then a monster appears, or does it? After a troubling children’s book called “Mr. Babadook” mysteriously manifests on her child’s shelf, the typical menu of strange occurrences begin tormenting the family (passing shadows, strange sounds, whispered voices). Samuel insists that The Babadook has arrived but Emelia is skeptical, even while she grows increasingly unhinged.

While The Babadook treads ground laid before it by other genre films, director Jennifer Kent relies on old-school practical effects and a full plot beyond the creaks in the night to form a delightful scare. The Babadook itself, barely glimpsed in shadow and mostly depicted by the hauntingly simple sketches of a children’s book, is a strong display of restraint, with the movie relying more on a sense of escalating psychological unease than crashing cymbals to get under the audience’s skin. The final confrontation is overlong and chips away at some of the goodwill earned earlier in the film, but Kent ends the film on an perfectly eerie note of ambiguity that stops short of definitively answering whether the monster is actual entity or metaphor for something more sinister.

Grade: B+

*The Babadook opens in Utah on Friday, Dec. 19.

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