Showing posts with label possession. Show all posts
Showing posts with label possession. Show all posts

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Evil Dead (2013)

Director: Fede Álvarez
Studios: Ghost House Pictures, FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Tagline: Fear What You Will Become
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, supernatural thriller, psychological thriller, possession, drama, action, gore
Scare score: C-
Rating: B-

Plot overview: Five friends arrive at a secluded cabin in the woods to help Mia (Levy) quit and overcome her withdrawal from heroin. After discovering disturbing animal sacrifices and a mysterious and ancient text in the basement, a demonic force begins to possess and kill the group one by one.

This movie is tricky. Described by the director as a continuation of the original classic, my biggest complaint about this film is that in many ways it feels like another gritty, early 2000s revamp of a horror classic and yet doesn't have any of the bizarre humor that made the original stand out in the first place (although acting and effects are up to par with 2010s horror). For that reason, I feel this movie isn't super memorable. Case in point, I was watching it last night and it wasn't until about halfway through that I realized I'd seen it once or twice before. My bad.

That being said, lots of things about this not-quite-a-remake, 4th installment in the Evil Dead franchise are awesome. It's not for everybody, to be sure, but there is something so unrelenting about this movie—and about the nature of the horror which manifests in it—which keeps hitting you again and again practically from start to finish. The best thing this film does is maintain the gore-heavy nature of the original. Using really fun makeup and special effects—and only very minimal CGI—we are treated to tons of bloody, dirty, sharp, gut-wrenching gore that is pretty similar (if less campy) than the original's. There are also tons of great nods throughout the film, which isn't too surprising given that the producers of the original films were on this project as well (Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Robert G. Tapert). It's a rehash of the original in many ways, but even Ash's car is still there, the chainsaw of course, and at one point we see a Michigan sweater, like in the original, because Raimi and Tapert both went to Michigan State, Campbell also went to college in Michigan, and all three were born in the Great Lakes State. I love when creators pay homage to their own upbringings, and Michigan specifically seems to be hot in recent years, such as in It Follows or in another Fede Álvarez-directed thriller (also starring Levy), 2016's excellent Don't Breathe.

I didn't think this new take on The Evil Dead was scary whatsoever, and I was going to give it a lower Scare Score, but then I thought more specifically about some of the action-packed scenes in this movie that, while not scary in your typical sense, were kind of horrifying in their brutality. Like the first film, the horror-action is pretty relentless once the incantation is read from the Naturom Demonto, this installment's version of Lovecraft's infamous Necronomicon. Unfortunately it all feels a lot more pointless than the way the first movie did it, and while I enjoyed watching all the projectile vomiting and cutting or tearing off of various limbs, I really didn't enjoy the so-called Abomination. Sort of fell flat and felt like stuff we've seen in other films like The Ring or The Grudge. On the other hand, I enjoyed when the characters were becoming possessed. That to me was creepier than the evil entity itself, and in some ways more well done than the original.

I really thought there was some strong acting in this movie. I wasn't anticipating this, because the setup and mood really felt a lot like some of those subpar 2000s revamps of other horror classics, and the horror culture at that time certainly did not emphasize acting compared to other things like looks. Really enjoyed the handsome Shiloh Fernandez as the calm and caring older brother, even if he got a little dim at parts. As in most movies like this, each character got a bit conveniently dumb (feels like Cabin in the Woods at play) at times, including the heavily-criticized Eric (Pucci)—who was probably my least favorite of the bunch—who immediately reads from the Naturom Demonto even though he knows it's an awful idea. The real star of the movie is Jane Levy as Mia, who keeps us entertained the whole time as she moves from emo/traumatized to violent withdrawal/psychosis to demon-possessed to badass final girl.

As in the original, this continuation employs unrelenting horror to disgust and terrify audiences. Does it work? In some ways, it's more refreshing than the first, which is admittedly cornier with more syrup-heavy fake blood and colorful gore. This version wanted to go darker, and it certainly did that, but I feel it missed out on the great cinematography and creative violence of the first. The film ends up serving as a sort of grittier tribute that takes itself too seriously (I hate the movie poster so much). Still, I appreciate the sheer volume of violence and gore it offers once the demons are released. When it comes to the sexual violence in the film—which has taken a thornier turn for the worse—the same questions are raised: What is the purpose of the violence? Is it to terrorize us further or is it simply a shock factor? This time around, it was less explicit, with more of a sci-fi possession twist going on.

Final critique: It's no surprise that a modern take on The Evil Dead was going to happen eventually, so it's a good thing it was done with as much respect and detail as this version, which had the guidance of the original team. At first it may feel like a forced and darker version of the original, but eventually the sheer action and gore help stand this film on its own two feet, although fans of the first will miss the dark and slapstick humor that made it a cult classic. If you can't do gore, stay away from this film, which has it in spades. Otherwise, this movie isn't spectacularly scary, and if it weren't for the name and history attached to it, it feels pretty forgettable.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Gothika (2003)

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Studios: Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Starring: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Penelope Cruz
Tagline: Because someone is dead doesn't mean they're gone.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, psychological thriller, mystery, drama, ghost, supernatural, possession
Scare score: C+
Rating: B

Plot overview: Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) is an intelligent, driven, and happy psychiatrist that relies on fact and logic to do her job. One night while driving home from the mental hospital in a thunderstorm, Dr. Grey narrowly avoids hitting a girl who is standing in the middle of the road. When she goes out to help, however, the girl seems to burst into flames and take over Miranda's body.   After Miranda comes to a while later, she is back in the mental hospital but as a patient. To her horror, she learns that her husband has been brutally murdered and that she is the primary suspect based on overwhelming physical and forensic evidence. With some supernatural help, Miranda must not only show that she's not crazy, but she must also prove her innocence... or someone else's guilt.

This movie is funny to me because I think I first caught the beginning of it when I was about 13. It's been over a decade, but I still was never able to finish it until recently (this movie used to be impossible to find online). When it was on TV one night in December, I dropped everything to watch it, and I'm glad I did.

Gothika might have a bad reputation, but I don't think it's a bad movie. It's very 2003 in nature, but I was extremely impressed by Halle Berry's performance. Like, legitimately– she does a good job in this film. She is supported by Robert Downey, Jr. who I generally like a lot as well. Penelope Cruz is also a stunner both in physicality and as an actress. Her career is very interesting, and it's fun to see her in a supporting role 2 years after a major movie like Blow. She's so fantastic in Almodóvar films; if you haven't seen Todo sobre mi madre and Volver I highly suggest you go watch them.

Anyway, this movie is pretty much just fun, filled with plenty of chills and thrills. I'm really pretty surprised that people don't like it. It's very dark, and if you look at the poster you'll get a good vibe for what the cinematography is like, sort of a blue black tone the whole time. There are some wildly frightening scenes thanks to invisible ghost forces, so that makes for some scares as well as awesome displays of physical acting. Mainly I am thinking of the shower scene and also when Berry is being tossed around that cell.

There's an enduring mystery here, as in most ghost films, and who doesn't love that? In fact, the strange blend of science and supernatural is fairly unnerving; we never know quite where this film is headed. Luckily there is enough stability due to steady acting and screenplay, that even when we are drowning in unanswered questions, we're not ready to give up on the movie. Things certainly are more than a little silly, both in plot and dialogue, but we're given enough action and delivery to keep up with Dr. Grey's roller coaster ride.

I did like when the plot takes a major turn towards the end. When the truth comes out, everything is flipped on its head, and suddenly the fear becomes so much darker and more real than ghosts and possession. Everyone wants to see their protagonist vindicated, especially after things get so gritty and sexual. I was very surprised with how dark the movie gets during these moments when the truth comes out about the other characters. You'll have to watch to find out!

There was some good gore in this film, which was just sort of the icing on the cake of what is otherwise a rapidly paced and sometimes confusing wild goose chase. Most of all, I like how Gothika had moments that sort of tied everything together and brought everything back down to a playing field that as an audience we could handle.

Final critique: You may have heard bad or mediocre things about this movie, but I say give it a chance. It's a fun flick to watch with friends, and it's easy to pause and take a break from if you want to go make popcorn or something. You may not be at the edge of your seat, but I think Gothika has a lot to it. All the plot twists are very exciting, so that along with the surprising terror both in lies and in truth make for a nicely rounded out if fanciful film.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friedkin
Studios: Warner Bros.
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow
Tagline: The Movie You've Been Waiting For... Without the Wait.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, terror, supernatural thriller, drama, exorcism, possession, religious occult
Scare score: B
Rating: A-

Plot overview: Recently-separated movie actress Chris MacNeil (Burstyn) is living in Georgetown with her friendly, spontaneous 12-year-old daughter Regan (Blair) and some staff. When Regan suddenly begins undergoing extremely drastic personality changes, Chris takes her to several doctors, who can only conclude that Regan should go to a psychiatrist. Chris, however, thinks that there is something much more fantastic and malevolent at hand. When Regan, who is now constrained to her bed due to her violent fits, appears physically altered and her personality has completely changed, Chris enlists the help of Father Damian Karras (Miller), a gifted psychiatrist and priest who is dealing with his faith. After seeking the help of the renown Father Merrin (von Sydow), both men attempt an exorcism to rid Regan of the demon possessing her.

If you ask anybody between the ages of 30 and 60 to name a horror movie, any horror movie, chances are they will name The Exorcist. There is something special about this film that scared—or maybe the word here is fazed—audiences and then stuck with them, something that people today still recount and it sends shivers down their spine. Horror Buff doesn't particularly love hopping on the bandwagon without giving the fad in question a good thinking over, so I have to admit that I was not enamored of The Exorcist after first seeing it when I was little. A coworker was talking to me about it recently while we discussed my love of horror movies, so I decided to revisit this classic. I guess I had to know exactly what it was about this movie that still scares people today.

Even if you're not into overkill, mainstream stuff, The Exorcist is a genre-defining classic. The movie is more artful than scary, relying on a few images that shock you and stick in your mind after the movie has ended. I have to admit, as I started this movie around 1 AM the weather took a turn for the worse outside my window, and I was able to enjoy this film during a pretty crazy wind and rainstorm. As I've said before, the ambience changes the movie-viewing experience entirely. Beyond the few scares this movie tosses our way, there is a general sense of uneasiness, and throughout the rest of the time we have a family struggle of which the drama certainly had me hooked early on.

What's weird about this movie? Nothing scary happens until about an hour into the film. Sure, there are a few subtle moments (I was really into the random flashes of that demon's face; would love to see a monster like that in modern horror), but the plot doesn't even beginning rolling into pretty far into the film. I thought the Ouija board was a fun touch, although I wasn't convinced that it was even important to the plot— is that how Regan first got possessed, or is it introduced as a cultural tool that introduces the possibility that Regan brought this on herself? Same goes for the small medallion that Father Merrin uncovers at the dig in Iraq. The multiple story lines in this movie struck me as being pretty bizarre in the fashion that they were ultimately edited together. It took such a long time to get to Regan's story, which, while everyone knows is the main point of the movie, in reality doesn't even take up too much time. We see practically just as much slow-moving background on Father Merrin (even though we don't know who the heck he is) and Father Karras as we do on the MacNeils.

One thing I did like about all the background was that it makes the characters more real, which I guess has a lot to do with the book on which this movie is based. I haven't read it, but I'm sure that Blatty, Friedkin, and crew knew exactly what they were doing. The dynamics between Burstyn and Blair are so genuine, so spontaneously realistic that you can't help but liking them. Blair is an incredible actress (although later in the movie it's not clear when it's actually her and when it's a doll with Mercedes McCambridge's voice) because you can't even tell she's acting. She just seems like a happy-go-lucky 12-year-old girl. This is one of the biggest challenges to Karras's faith: Why would such an innocent girl become a victim? What does that mean for the rest of humanity? The onset of her possession happens really quickly (hmmm), but the contrast afterwards is great. Out of all the possession movies I've begrudgingly seen, I think that my absolutely favorite possessed person has to be Regan/ Pazuzu.

What else is weird about this film that I wasn't crazy about? Now I certainly don't think that directors need to beat a dead horse, and I really can't stand dialogue for the sake of plot exposition, but you can't always take crazy leaps and expect people to follow. I acknowledge that I haven't read the book, so perhaps the movie was made with the understanding that many viewers wouldn't have as hard a time following along. Example 1: Father Merrin is called to check out the recently discovered dig site, and when he finds a small medallion and a carving he suddenly grows ill, freaks out, and 'has to leave.' And then he disappears for like an hour and a half. Alright. Later, Regan is showing her mom the Ouija board that she 'found in a closet' and we are introduced to this character of Captain Howdy. The Ouija board is a reference to one of America's most famous cases of possession, which Blatty's novel draws inspiration from. While we do see the planchette move by itself, therefore refusing to let Chris play along with Regan, we never see or hear it mentioned again, and even during a preliminary meeting between Father Karras and possessed Regan, when asked "Are you Regan's friend Captain Howdy?" the entity responds no. So is the Ouija board a red herring, or is Pazuzu just a master of deception, lying all over the place? I couldn't help but feel like this movie on several accounts jumps ahead and we miss out. Why are there bumps in the attic? What was there? A physical manifestation of the demon? Something else that ticked me off was the help in the house— did this movie ever explain that Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn) was an assistant, or why she was living with the family? For half the movie I thought this was Regan's sister that Chris oddly didn't treat like a daughter. This was really confusing, but I guess it's in the book.

I think the special effects of the movie were really pretty good. In fact, I'd have to say that in the whole movie—forget the pea soup, the green slime, the mucus-y loogies-from-hell, the twisted necks, and even the crucifix being used as a weapon and other things—the scene that grossed me out the most was when Regan had to go to the hospital for tests and they like stuck that wire into her neck. The shooting blood and then even thicker needle really grossed me out. Perhaps the other memorable part about this particular classic is Pazuzu's use of profanity. Like keep your children away from this movie unless you want them acting like the offspring of a sailor and a truck driver. I think the fact that they filmed Regan's bedroom scenes in a refrigerated set was brilliant, because I hate in movies when it's supposed to be cold and you don't see any breath. I read that Friedkin kinda sorta abused his cast here, leading to some real and true reactions from various actors resulting from surprise or even pain sustained while filming. I also saw the version with the so-called "spider-walk," and I thought that while its placement within the film was awkward, the scene itself was a cool touch.

As far as acting goes this movie had a '70s touch to it, but the acting was both convincing and endearing. Call me crazy, but did anyone else find it ironic that while Burstyn plays an actress, I didn't think her acting in the beginning of the movie was that great? Regardless, she might have been my favorite character, but I found some scenes a little questionable earlier on in the film. I thought Jason Miller was the true main character of the movie (not sure how it is in the book), and while I felt like I was watching The Godfather, he did a good job. Not sure why Father Merrin is treated so importantly in the plot when his importance did not seem established to me, but I liked von Sydow's acting. As you know, I don't think Linda Blair could have done any better. A quick shout out to Reverend William O'Malley in the role of Father Dyer, because we share the same alma mater. You gotta love a good Jesuit-themed horror movie.

Final critique: You should see this movie, especially at this time of year. While I think there's much more to this movie than its horror, the scary scenes are fun and worth the wait. What I don't understand is why people, magazines, and conglomerate sites rate this movie the scariest movie of all time because it's quite simply not. Understandably, at the time of its release it might have been, especially because of the shocking language and gross imagery. What's strange about the 'scary moments' of this movie is that they're very memorable, but not very scary. Sure, you have a few head turns and a lot of slime thrown on people's faces, and the title song is certainly eerie, but these things last a brief amount of time and then the emphasis returns from horror to drama, which seems to me to have been the theme of this movie.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Shining (1980)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Studios: Peregrine Productions, Producers Circle
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Tagline: A Masterpiece of Modern Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, ghosts, haunting, possession, family drama
Scare score: B+
Rating: A-

While buckling down for the possible tornadoes last weekend, my cousin, her roommate, and I took advantage of the gloomy weather and overall creepy atmosphere to watch this gem.  I accepted the opportunity graciously, as it is rare for me to find friends who will sit through a horror movie.

Plot overview: Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife, Wendy (Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), to the remote Overlook Hotel after being hired as the caretaker of the building and grounds while they are closed during the winter season.  We already know Danny has an "imaginary friend"/ psychic power that he does not fully understand; he believes the Overlook to house evil spirits.  As complete isolation and cabin fever begin setting in, Jack begins to hallucinate, seeing ghosts around the hotel.  He also begins to drink again, quickly turning into an unstable and violent alcoholic.  After Danny is hurt by a ghost (Room 237=scary), Wendy thinks that Jack has become abusive and/or they are not alone in the massive hotel.  This accusation causes Jack to finally crack, and he sets out to kill his family.  Cue all the evil spirits in the hotel breaking lose, elevators full of blood, dining rooms full of corpses, and the ever-iconic "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" scene.

Fun facts: The term "shining" refers to the psychic ability that Danny posses to see into the future and communicate with other 'shiners' without speaking.  He learns about it from the hotel's head chef, who comes back to try and help the family after sensing Danny's calls for help.
King chose 217 as the evil room because he and his wife were staying in room 217 at the hotel that helped him create the idea for The Shining.  In the movie, this was changed to 237.

Adapted, of course, from the novel of the same name by the untouchable Stephen King, I think The Shining has become much more successful than anyone could have predicted at the time.  I did some research on this classic a few months ago, and from what I understand, Kubrick was so meticulous in his filming that it even caused Shelley Duvall to become physically ill and lose some hair!  Talk about scary.  Still, there's something to be said about all the fine details, which do add a great deal to this film which, in my opinion, moves rather slowly until all the events begin to culminate towards the end.

One of my favorite small details in the film, which I think really helps set in the nail-biting suspense, comes from all the scenes of Danny riding his trike around the hotel.  The change from the silence of the wheels on carpet to the sudden lull of the wheels on the hardwood is pretty unnerving.  Also, Danny's little-voice-inside-his-mouth-friend, Tony, is really frightening, and causes us to examine the line between cute imaginary friends from childhood and more real, psychological problems - or in Danny's case, a psychic power.  For a young, new child actor, Lloyd does an awesome job.  I almost forgot to mention how scary the changes between "chapters" at the beginning of the movie are.  Up until cabin fever starts setting in, the movie moves relatively slowly, but each time they change from, say, "The Job Interview" to the next section, there is a terrifying crash of music.  The suspense is really building up the whole movie.

I have always loved Shelley Duvall.  While I don't think she's ugly, she certainly has very creepy aspects about her demeanor that add a lot to her character even before her husband goes crazy.  She has a perfect face- wide eyes, spaced-out-teeth, pale skin, dark hair- when she has to act terrified.  Her voice is also pretty creepy: innocent and almost annoying with a high pitch and slight southern/midwestern twang, and there is certainly something slightly off about it.

Jack Nicholson is brilliant in this role.  He is so creepy looking, and the late 70's attire, lower middle class in a Colorado winter look does a lot.  I think one of the scariest scenes is when he is zoning out at his typewriter, with his chin down at his chest, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes fixed upward, out of his skull.  His quick temper is rather frightening and all-too-human up until the point we understand that he seems to be possessed.  He becomes, in his murderous state, a brute, masculine force, representing abuse and rage, that has to scare us as we watch him run around the hotel with an axe.

Final critique: Overall, this is a must-see horror movie.  The psychological aspect should be what gets us the most.  The ghosts are very scary and the makeup helps with that.  The two twins are terrifying even before we see the image of them covered in blood with an axe in their head.  The young/old woman evil spirit in Room 237 turns out to be so foul: just as Jack thinks he's about to get some it's revealed how she is actually a corpse with wet, rotting flesh *grossest scene in the film*.  The Overlook is just as important a character as any Torrance family member.  Her ugly, 70's decor; long, seemingly endless corridors; restricting and claustrophobic bedroom scenes; twisting kitchen and boiler room; and even wide open main spaces- the general emptiness of it all, is certainly an aspect we take away with us after seeing the movie.  Bound to give you nightmares, or you will otherwise find yourself thinking of the ghosts next time you're in a ski lodge, hotel, or home alone.  Definitely recommended for all horror movie watchers; those who scare easily should be able to handle this film if aptly warned before any scary scenes.

And, of course, who could forget that very last scene and all the questions it provokes?