Tag Archives: cults

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2016

‘The Invitation’
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

In “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drive deep into the Hollywood Hills to attend a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) at the house Will and Eden used to share. The party is the first time any of their friends have seen them in two years — Will and Eden divorced following the accidental death of their son, and Eden left to join a grief support group in Mexico, where she met David. Throughout the course of the evening, Will becomes increasingly disturbed being back in the house he once shared with a happy family that is no more, and he also begins to grow suspicious of Eden and David, who try to share with the group their new spiritual philosophies that have helped them overcome grief. I like how “The Invitation” slowly turns up the suspense and leaves the audience unsure if there is really something sinister behind Eden’s cultish white dress and David’s calm demeanor, or if it’s just Will suffering from a mental breakdown when confronted with his past. It’s sufficiently creepy and even a bit thoughtful. All-in-all, “The Invitation” is a pretty good thriller.

‘The Neon Demon’
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.
Grade: B

neondemon

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment and The Jokers.

“The Neon Demon” is the most talked-about and most polarizing horror movie of the year. For the most part, I really liked it. Kind of a tired story: Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a young girl from a small town hoping to make it big as a model in Hollywood, but Hollywood is, unfortunately, full of Illuminati and lesbian necrophiliacs. It’s a higher budget version of 2014’s “Starry Eyes,” which is a much better film, plot-wise. But don’t come to “The Neon Demon” for the plot: come for the artistic visuals, evil female leads and the always excellent Jena Malone who steals the show as Jesse’s eerily too nice, there’s-gotta-be-something-wrong-with-her mentor Ruby. My main issue with “The Neon Demon” is the weird casting of Elle Fanning as the lead — she’s not charismatic enough to propel the movie on her own, and she’s cute, but the very embodiment of natural beauty? Eh. At least the costumes are fabulous.

‘Train to Busan’
Release Date: July 20, 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an and Jung Yu-mi
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

train-to-busan

Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan” is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long while. The Korean horror film expertly showcases comedic moments, high tension, family drama, romance and truly frightening zombie shots. It’s an excellent movie and one of the best horror films of the year. The story follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an absentee father whose focus on his business has crippled his relationship with his 9-year-old daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). For her birthday, all Su-an wants is to be reunited with her estranged mother, so Seok-woo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her on the high-speed KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. Unfortunately, the train departs just as the country begins to deteriorate into a zombie apocalypse. Only Busan, the country’s southern port city, is safe, and the survivors must fight to get the train to its final destination. The intense zombie action scenes are top tier (my favorite is a stop in Daejeon where the passengers are faced with a horde of zombie soldiers in military uniform charging up the stairs), but where “Train to Busan” really got me is with its heart. The evolving father-daughter dynamic will suck you in, and the supporting characters are all so compelling. “Train to Busan” is not to be missed.

‘31’
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Grade: B-

31

Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

As a diehard Rob Zombie fan, I enjoyed “31” and was pleased to find it more straightforward and accessible than Zombie’s last release, 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” “31” follows a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween 1976 and told by three strangers that they will be entered into a game called 31. During the game, they will have 12 hours to escape from a maze-like warehouse of rooms while various clowns will be sent to torture and kill them. The plot isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but Zombie’s characterizations are always the most entertaining. His villains are excellent, particularly Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, an aristocrat in a powdered wig who oversees the proceedings and announces the carnies’ odds for survival over a loudspeaker, and Richard Brake as Doom-Head, the final and most effective obstacle in the gang’s way of survival. As always, Sheri Moon Zombie is a badass and a delight, and I love that she’s still the ultimate scream queen, wielding chainsaws in barely-there crop tops at 46.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2014

‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska
Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance
Rating: R for language and brief nudity.
Grade: A

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is more of a vampire art film than a horror movie, but I’m including it anyway. It’s a slow-paced, beautifully-shot romance following two centuries-old vampires as they continue to gravitate back toward each other. Tilda Swinton as Eve has an amazing, commanding presence on screen, and Tom Hiddleston as Adam is well-matched. Together, the pair searches for fresh sources of blood to drink in between discussions about music, art, the current state of humankind, and the experiences they’ve had over the years (playwright Christopher Marlowe — played by John Hurt — is an old friend and fellow vampire). The film’s soundtrack is a strong complement to the gorgeous cinematography, which spans locations such as Detroit, Michigan and Tangier, Morocco. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is amusing, charming and an altogether delightful little film about a love that really endures everything.

‘The Sacrament’
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Director: Ti West
Starring: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen and Amy Seimetz
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including bloody images, language, and brief drug use.
Grade: B+

sacrament

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Magnolia Home Entertainment.

“The Sacrament” is found-footage horror done right, as it tells a fictionalized account of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. The story follows three “VICE” reporters as they travel to Eden Parish, a mysterious religious commune located in the remote wilderness, where one reporter’s sister has been supposedly thriving after recovering from drug addiction. The presence of the film crew and their probing questions seem to disrupt the equilibrium of the sect and force its leadership to a violent breaking point. “The Sacrament” is a pretty satisfying horror film for any cult enthusiasts, and it effectively creates an environment of high tension leading up to a tremendous, explosive conclusion. The only part that really drags is the interview with Father (Gene Jones), the cult leader, who is given way too much screen time to ramble on and on about his beliefs. But such are cult leaders, yeah?

‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2014
Director: Adam Robitel
Starring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay and Michelle Ang
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language, and brief nudity.
Grade: D-

takingofdeborah

Photo courtesy of Eagle Films/Millennium Entertainment.

This was a terrible disappointment. I thought “The Taking of Deborah Logan” was going to be about an elderly woman who appears to have Alzheimer’s disease but is, in fact, turning into a zombie, but the actual movie was a lot more convoluted and a lot less logical than that. The first half of the film is found-footage horror at its worst — completely pointless and unoriginal “Paranormal Activity”-style scares in the middle of the night as a team of filmmakers plan to study the effects the degenerative disease has on the lives of a woman and her daughter. When the truth finally begins to unfold, the increasingly ridiculous plot twists are revealed hurriedly and accepted unquestioningly (and somehow still captured on film although the guise of the documentary had long since become shaky). There’s only one moment of really good creepy imagery at the very end, but you’re better off just looking at a .gif and skipping “The Taking of Deborah Logan.”

‘The Babadook’
Release Date: Nov. 28, 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman and Daniel Henshall
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

the-babadook

Photo courtesy of Cinetic Media/eOne Films International/IFC Films.

“The Babadook” is a great achievement for modern horror. It is mentally and emotionally disturbing — scary in a way that transcends gore and relies entirely on an increasing sense of dread. “The Babadook” is just supernatural enough to leave the audience delightfully and horribly mystified: how much horror is real and how much is just in our own twisted minds? There are phenomenal performances all around. Essie Davis stars as Amelia, a widowed single mother who is trying her best to raise her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and maintain her sanity after her husband’s violent death. Wiseman also gives a stellar performance as the weird little kid who is obsessed with building weapons and fighting monsters, which only further isolates the family from the outside world. Everything about “The Babadook” is well executed and eerie. And it leaves you with something interesting to think about, which is the best way to end a film.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

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Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

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Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

Berberian Sound Studio 2

Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

We-Are-What-We-Are

Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.