Film4 Frightfest 2014 Day 4: Open Windows, Faults, Among The Living, The Samurai, The House At The End Of Time, Stage Fright
The Sunday of FrightFest was the first of two full day passes that I’d originally intended to purchase in an effort to up my intake from the previous two years. After getting carried away with the ticket booking, I arrived at Sunday already having seen five films, but with a lovely festival pass stuffed into a lanyard (and if you’ve never roamed a film festival wearing a lanyard, put it on your bucket list right now, there’s few film experiences in life so oddly yet pointlessly empowering) and an anonymous-looking printed voucher with which to collect Discovery Screen tickets, I was all ready to go.
My only problem was getting there. I live an hour and a half from central London, so normally park at the tube station and use my Oyster card – because despite living an hour and a half away, I watch films in London enough to justify me having an Oyster card – but the tube shuts before the last film finishes on a long day and the Nightbus adds an hour to my journey. Additionally, my car had been into the garage twice in the previous week, once for a scheduled service at the company garage where I was hoping a persistent shudder would be resolved, and once into my village garage when the scheduled service made no difference to the persistent shudder.
So I drove into London with the intention of parking at the Leicester Square car park, knowing it would cost a fortune this year without the cheap parking deal of previous years but just glad of the convenience, and gripped by more terror thanks to my juddering car than I was at any time watching films so far – yes, even in The Babadook. It may have been that which caused me to miss my scheduled turning when driving into London, but I suddenly realised I don’t know south and east London half as well as I thought I did, so I quickly fired up the satnav while parked at traffic lights. Its first attempt to direct me asked me to turn left, which I duly did, only to realise I’d just turned on to Tower Bridge heading south across the river, when Leicester Square is resolutely north of the Thames.
You’ve probably heard of park and ride, but what I had to do once I’d concluded my massive detour that took me via Vauxhall to Parliament Square on Sunday was park and run, run across Leicester Square thankfully before the hordes of zombie-like tourists normally shuffling around it had assembled, grab my lanyard and take my aisle seat just as the first film was getting going. I then spent the rest of the day in a panic that I hadn’t locked the car properly, but also feeling I’d come across as neurotic if I went back to check. (Of course, if I hadn’t just told you, no one would have been any the wiser, but hey…)
So the first film of the day was the latest from Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo, a techno-thriller that you wouldn’t be surprised to find the likes of Brian De Palma’s name on. Shot generally from the perspective of someone viewing various windows on a laptop, Open Windows follows the misfortunes of Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), a webmaster of a fansite for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) who believes he’s won a competition to meet her. While watching her press conference via a laptop, Nick is contacted by a man (Neil Maskell) claiming that she’s cancelled their meeting and encouraging him to spy on her via some high tech equipment he’s already put in Nick’s room. Nick is swiftly drawn into a web of lies and deceit that put both his and Jill’s lives in danger and his only hope might be a group of secretive hackers attempting to contact a super hacker who might just be the man tormenting them.
I’ll not beat about the bush: Open Windows is nuts. It’s quickly apparent that whoever’s manipulating Nick has access to some seriously advanced tech, giving him seemingly omnipotent powers in the world of technology that Nick has become trapped in. It’s possible, at least for a while, to read some deeper meaning into the voyeurism that Nick both peddles and that then could become his undoing, but by the end any such hope of a more philosophical or cerebral challenge is lost. Elijah Wood gives good panic-face, but he’s about the only participant called on to do any actual acting. By the third act, as twist piles upon twist and revelations start dropping like flies, credibility has put on its sun hat and short trousers and long since taken a holiday, and the whole thing is as mad as a giraffe in a tutu juggling chainsaws and about as believable. But it is not for one minute dull and I found myself heading out with a big, stupid grin on my face.
After the film, director Vigalondo gave a Q & A where he talked about some of the logistical and technical challenges involved. The highlight was his reveal that he next plans to make the lowest-budget Godzilla movie possible, ideally with a man in a suit and even more ideally with him in the suit. Someone get that man a Kickstarter, pronto.
The Score: 7/10
Next up was the debut feature from Riley Stears, who you’d probably have more idea of if I told you his wife is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Faults concerns a young woman called Claire (Winstead) who’s been brainwashed by a cult called Faults. Her parents approach washed-up author Ansel (Leland Orser) with experience in the field, who takes on the job of deprogramming Claire despite an unfortunate suicide the last time he attempted a similar task. Claire’s parents are willing to pay whatever it takes to get their daughter back, but they’re unaware that Ansel’s debtors have him working under a ticking clock that may make the task that much more challenging.
Faults certainly starts promisingly, with Ansel’s abrasive nature putting him in conflict with almost everyone he comes into contact with; not useful when your only hope of earning money is to run a seminar and to sell books. Ansel feels very much a loser cut from the mould of many of the Coen brothers’ characters, an unfortunate loser frequently caught in meaningless debates about the minutiae of life. The success of the early stretches are making him seem at least competent in his field while managing to fail at almost every other aspect of life. His fraught demeanour is the perfect counterpoint to Claire’s icy collectedness, and the two have an interesting intellectual tussle as he attempts to challenge the ideas that Faults have placed in her head.
There’s no denying that the two central performances from Orser and Winstead are both fantastic in their own ways, that there’s a pleasing collection of oddballs speckling the supporting cast and that the setting, spending much of its time in two hotel rooms, is suitably claustrophobic and Stears keeps the pace gentle while still managing to stir up tension. However, I never quite bought into the transitions that Ansel and Claire undergo through the course of the film, the ultimate resolution feeling just a little too pat and contained and the leaps of logic a little too strained, even within the mindsets of the characters. But if she’s going to deliver performances as good as this, then Stears should continue making star vehicles for his missus, as there’s enough here to suggest a promising future.
The Score: 6/10
Among The Living (Aux yeux des vivants)
The third feature from French directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustido, Among The Living focuses on three delinquent teens who bunk off the last day of term to avoid a mutual detention and end up attempting to set fire to a barn before exploring a deserted film studio in the countryside. While there, they happen upon a kidnapped woman, but their attempts to convince the police of the woman’s plight fall on deaf ears thanks to their earlier pyromania. While they are returned to their respective homes, the kidnappers – a father and his deformed son who hides behind a clown mask – determine to hunt them down and ensure there’s no possibility of any further problems from the youngsters.
Among The Living takes the standard tropes of a slasher movie and inserts them into the equivalent of an American teen film. While the youngsters might look fresh faced enough in the picture above, these are three rather unpleasant youngsters and this is no The Goonies or even Stand By Me. In fact, it’s difficult to know where your sympathies should lie: the youngsters are emblematic of the worst excesses of troubled youth but Maury and Bustido also do their best to make the killers unsympathetic. With no one left to root for, the only hope is that the violence itself and that turns out to be, for the large part, desperately dull – only one kill in the final showdown engages the senses and too often the rest of the action feels oddly neutered, despite being often quite brutal. All in all there’s little to excite or engage and Among The Living won’t linger long in the memory.
The Score: 4/10
The Samurai (Der Samurai)
In the words of the Barenaked Ladies in their song One Week, “Like Kurosawa I make mad films; ‘kay I don’t make films, but if I did they’d have a samurai.” A fine sentiment, although samurai films are two a penny and need something to elevate themselves above the crowd. This, however, is a samurai film from Germany that’s distributed by Peccadillo Pictures, the distribution firm that’s made a name for themselves by getting films such as Weekend, Tomboy, Stranger By The Lake and The Golden Dream into cinemas. Michel Dirks is Jakob, a young policeman who’s attempting to track a wolf stalking the woods of a remote German village. But the wolf isn’t what the villagers or Jakob should be most afraid of; a shadowy figure has a package delivered to Jakob which contains a samurai sword, and soon Jacob is drawn into a battle of wills with its wielder, a mysterious man in a full length white dress (Pit Bukowski).
Dirks and Bukowsi have a fascinating and unpredictable interplay, and as their head to head expands into violence and spills out into the community tensions rise and director Til Kleinert uses the night-time forest setting to retain a sense of foreboding throughout. Bukowski gets to give the showy performance (aiming to, and to a large extent succeeding in, evoking Rutger Hauer as he discussed in the Q & A afterwards), but he’s well matched by Dirks’ descent from earnestness into anger as he fights both the samurai and the villagers’ perceptions of him. Kleinert uses the setting and the mixture of elements to create something that resides somewhere between a revenge thriller and a fairytale, and stages his fight scenes and the more gruesome kills stylishly and efficiently. The Samurai is a true original, and if you’re looking for something dark and different then Kleinert may have just the recipe for you.
Following the film, Kleinert, Dirks and Bukowsi attended a Q & A, where Bukowski spend half his time discussing the technical challenges of a shot near the end that were, as they described, the antithesis of all the female flesh on show over the rest of the weekend. Let’s just say it involved a lot of non-prescription Viagra and one fearless actor.
The Score: 8/10
The House At The End Of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)
Horror gets everywhere in the world eventually. During the festival there were trailers for the granddaddy of them all, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari, which has just undergone a digital restoration, and ninety years on the likes of this festival now encompass films from Europe, Asia, America and Australia, but The House At The End Of Time shows that there are still new corners of the world to be explored, this being the first commercially released horror movie to come out of Venezuela. At first, the story feels generic and unlikely to push many boundaries: Dulce, an elderly woman (Ruddy Rodriguez) is released from prison after thirty years and ends up living under house arrest in the very same house where the murders she is accused of took place. Despite her husband having been murdered with a knife covered in her fingerprints, she claims to have no knowledge of how he came to be stabbed, and her son’s body was never recovered after he disappeared mysteriously in front of her. Only a sympathetic priest (Guillermo Garcia) may be able to help to understand what’s going on before events begin to repeat themselves.
Initially my feelings of optimism around this film were tempered with two concerns: as effective as they were, the opening sequence relies heavily on a couple of jump scares and little else to scare, and some of the visual and practical effects (in particular the old age make-up on Dulce) looked to be of poor quality. The effects actually turn out to matter little as they are offset by the great set design, the split levels of the house interior contributing to the general feeling of unease. Then what happens with the jump scares is even more remarkable: while there are more throughout the course of the film and unsurprisingly their effectiveness decreases over time, you start to see how the events behind them form part of a bigger picture and moments take on an unforeseen poignancy. Overall The House… is an effective mix of emotional beats and haunted house scares, and reveals itself to be something ambitious and rewarding.
The Score: 8/10
As I’d gone to all the effort of driving in and parking up over the road rather than taking the tube, and as the mix of coffee, diet cola and ProPlus in my system were still keeping me relatively awake, I thought I’d take in horror musical Stage Fright. I have to say that, when I came to write up this review, I was looking for a suitable image and found lots of versions of this:
Apparently it’s from an Italian horror by a pupil of Argento’s from 1987, and it looks freaking awesome. Sadly, what I got was a half-hearted mess. Minnie Driver turns up for around one scene, Meat Loaf is in large chunks of the film but gets one short song, and the remainder has been described as Glee meets Friday the 13th. Well, for all its faults Glee is at least two things Stage Fright is not: it’s willing to be funny and bitchy for more than five minutes, and it’s willing to be full of songs. After one great opening number which introduces us to the summer camp, we are then treated to an extended casting sequence which takes up the best part of half the film, during which Stage Fright forgets it’s a musical. Oh, and it also forgets it’s a horror. And it doesn’t have any owls with chainsaws. (Still bitter.) What it does have is one entertaining killing sequence. By the end it’s descending into saccharine sweet and faintly melodramatic, and you can’t make a good horror musical out of one good song, one good murder and a couple of decent jokes (spoiler: someone confuses kabuki with bukkake, and I only mention this because I suspect it’s the only reason that the musical is reworked as a kabuki version). The acting’s nothing to write home about, and I just wish Stage Fright had the courage of its convictions and had either gone more serious or a lot more camp.
The Score: 4/10
Next time: finally to Monday, when I wrapped up my festival experience with another five films, and when the rains came.
Sadly, doing the whole of FrightFest wasn’t really an option for me this year. Two days after it finishes, I’ll be starting my annual eleven day stint at the Cambridge Film Festival, so there’s only so much annual leave I can spend watching films and that ruled out Friday. Then I also knew I had a choice to make about Saturday, as one of the choirs I sing with when I’m not watching films was doing their annual cathedral visit. The idea is, whenever the regular cathedral choir goes on holiday, then other visiting choirs come in and do the services instead, and this choir was singing at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve sung in a whole host of places before, from the Royal Albert Hall to Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral to King’s College chapel, but if I have a bucket list of places left then St. Paul’s was probably at the top of it and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Normally you do these things for your own benefit, as a Saturday evensong at most cathedrals during the summer gets two people and a dog in attendance, but I was surprised to discover that St. Paul’s – being proper famous and all that – had somewhere between three and four hundred people in the congregation. No pressure then. It lived up to my every expectation and I spent three hours practising and singing in one of the finest buildings in the country, and all of the staff there were lovely. Then, as the rest of the choir boarded their coach to head back to Norfolk, I headed down The Strand and towards Leicester Square – I knew I could still get at least two films in when I planned the day, and what better way to finish it up than another dose of FrightFest?
Well, as it turns out there was one alternative: I hadn’t twigged that this was when the new series of Doctor Who was starting when I booked the tickets, so I will now not be seeing that until at least Tuesday. (EDIT: Wednesday now. Still not seen it.) However, on arriving in Leicester Square it dawned on me that not only was the episode on TV, but the whole thing was being shown in cinemas as well – which Leicester Square has in abundance – and the Q & A might even have been hosted somewhere round there. So I waded through the hordes of enthusiastic cosplayers – I counted a First, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor, as well a woman in a TARDIS dress and a multitude of children in various get-ups, including one with a cardboard TARDIS of his very own – and made my way over to the Vue for another night of horror-related film entertainment.
Thankfully it seemed as if the issues over the venue transition were settling down, and I arrived to find a very contented audience at the halfway point of the festival. The afternoon also meant I arrived for the second time at the festival suited and booted, so I shall feel somewhat under-dressed when I rock up in jeans and trainers on Sunday. It also made me realise that, for all of the genres it ends up spanning, FrightFest is actually pretty light on the cosplay. Someone did ask me if I was dressing up for the festival, but I think I’d not be along in thinking that five days sat in a cinema in fancy dress or heavy make-up isn’t the best idea.
(You might wonder why I’m telling you all this; partly because this is a blog, so you get the delight of reading about me and the films in a sort of movie BOGOF deal, partly so you know why I hadn’t given myself over completely to FrightFest when I’m an enthusiastic blogger but also because I think it’s useful for you to know that I live life through a series of rather mundane extremes; knowing that I spend the afternoon in church singing and the rest of the weekend seeking out the most depraved horror films imaginable probably tells you all about me as a person that you need to know.)
Anyway, to the films! Not actually that much depravity here, but certainly a double dose of quality.
Life After Beth
When you think of the term rom-zom-com, you might think (a) is that really a thing?, or more likely (b) Shaun Of The Dead (or, if you’re paying attention, last year’s Warm Bodies). The latest attempt to put a tick in all three boxes of that high concept is a very different spin on each aspect. The “com” is very much in the style of American indie films, not feeling a million miles away from Aubrey Plaza’s earlier film “Safety Not Guaranteed”. The “zom” is also a little different: rather than the world suddenly being swamped with hordes of the undead, we pick up with Zach (Dane DeHaan) mourning the loss of his girlfriend Beth (Plaza) and spending time with her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) in an effort to find peace. Except what he finds is Beth, seemingly returned from the grave and oblivious to her recent untimely death. Finally, the “rom” is also somewhat skewed, for while Beth’s return gives Zach the opportunity to say and do the things he regrets never saying and doing, their relationship was already in trouble and Zach is now left wondering if life with Beth’s death is actually what he wants.
The stand-out performance undoubtedly comes from Plaza, absolutely committed to however zombie she needs to be, but DeHaan is also great as the confused boyfriend trying to work out whether or not he should be using the Z-word about his newly returned girlfriend. The cast is packed full of familiar comedy faces, including Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach’s parents and Anna Kendrick as an old family friend who catches Zach’s eye, much to Beth’s disgust. The other highlight in the cast is Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s unhinged brother, who adds a screwball note to the otherwise deadpan, understated comedy. The laid back nature of Life After Beth might mean it’s not to everyone’s tastes – not a huge amount actually happens – but there’s a lot to enjoy, especially as events pick up pace in the second half; in the words of the immortal Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.” It’s a fun take on an established genre mix that will leave you smiling, with just a touch of poignancy before the end.
The Score: 8/10
Each of the films at FrightFest were preceded by a short selection of trailers and one of a series of films encouraging viewers to “Turn Your Bloody Phone Off”, after years of people not doing exactly than and causing much wailing and general abuse in FrightFest audiences. On Thursday night, one of the films also came with the trailer for The Babadook, which caused at least two people behind me to evacuate their bowels thanks to being generally terrifying.
So there’s two things about The Babadook: first, it’s generally terrifying. The washed-out aesthetic of the family home, full of dark blue hues and lingering shadows may not be the most original horror setting but it’s superbly executed, every dark corner full of constant menace. The Babadook is also a magnificently ominous creation, especially given that he’s a character in (admittedly the world’s darkest and most twisted) children’s book. When the book appears without warning on their bookshelf, mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) think it’s just another bedtime story, but Samuel becomes obsessed with the story. Raising her son without the father killed in an accident seven years earlier is hard enough for Amelia, but as Samuel’s very soul seems to be overtaken by fear of the monster, Amelia also finds herself pushed to breaking point.
The second thing is that there’s more to The Babadook than just some carefully constructed scares. What really makes The Babadook work so well is the level of investment that writer / director Jennifer Kent puts into Amelia and Sam’s relationship and backstory. Both Davis and Wiseman give perfectly pitched performances, Wiseman with the wide-eyed terror redolent of highly strung Danny Torrance from The Shining and Davis visibly fraying at the edges as the stress of her situation continues to pile on, but it’s the accident that took Amelia’s husband that haunts her as much as any fictional character ripping itself from the pages of a book.
Taken in combination, the emotional resonance from the script and the unnerving images of Amelia and Samuel’s gradual haunting produce a gripping story that worms its way into your mind before scaring the living senses out of you. I’ll just say this: it’s my third year at FrightFest, but I’ve been watching horror in cinemas for over twenty years, and yet while I’ve seen and heard people jump countless times in horror movies, The Babadook was the first time I’d heard someone properly scream in a cinema. Twice.
The Score: 9/10
Next time: Sunday, and a full day pass to a half dozen horrifying treats. (I also skived off church. Well, you have to have some priorities, don’t you?)
For the past two August Bank Holiday weekends I’ve entertained myself with a day at Film4 FrightFest, quite possibly Europe’s most prominent horror film festival and now in (I think, too lazy to Google, sorry) its fifteenth year this year. I’d originally started going after looking for a replacement event when Empire Magazine’s various summer conventions stopped three years ago, drowned under ticket debacles and poor organisation from third parties involved in setting up the events. (I’d gone from BIG SCREEN to a big scream, if you will.) This year, with a bit more free cash flow and Mrs Evangelist already otherwise engaged over the weekend, I decided that maybe I could manage a couple of days. Then I discovered that I was otherwise engaged on the middle Saturday, thus ruling out the day I’d gone for the past two years. Through a combination of indecision and a willingness to spend money without thinking, I have somehow this year ended up with three day passes (Thursday, Sunday and Monday), as well as two single tickets for Saturday evening once my other commitments are done.
Last year, I’d finished off with mixed emotions. The final film, Cheap Thrills, is probably the most enjoyable I’ve seen in my two days at the festival, but it was preceded by an announcement that the cinema we were in, the main screen at the Empire Leicester Square, wouldn’t be there in its present form by next year. The main auditorium (left) was 1,300 seats, and despite being a complete cavern with poor acoustics, once the place was packed and watching a great film it came alive; it even made R.I.P.D. seem reasonable, so it must have been doing something. Since then, we’ve learned that it’s been replaced by an IMAX screen, and while it’s great to now have one directly in the West End, it just doesn’t have the capacity of the old venue (having been split in two as part of the IMAX development). So this year the festival has shuffled down Leicester Square to the previous venue of its all nighters, the Vue West End.
The move has not been without teething difficulties: even with three screens, rather than one, the seating capacity is down by a couple of hundred seats and many attempting to book day or weekend passes endured significant difficulties. These seem to have extended to opening night, as I saw several instances of people discussing with cinema staff how they weren’t in their expected seats and in some cases, weren’t even in the same screen as their friends. This could prove interesting as the films are looping round the three screens, so it may take half a day for everyone in the three main screens to have all seen the same films. There are definite pluses, with the screen capacity for the two Discovery screens now significantly increased, and the festival has also taken over the bar area. You’re also still slap bang in Leicester Square, so the possibilities of popping down the square and ramming your face full of sweets between screenings at the freakish M & M Store still remain.
Anyway, my judgement got the better of me, and I booked a Thursday evening pass before discovering I was in a meeting at work in London the same day. I managed to escape my office, in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral, around 17:55 and then embarked on a perilous and potentially decapitating trek across a soggy London in rush hour, waving my rusty umbrella in the faces of anyone who dared block my path. Apologies if I did manage to have any heads off or eyes out with my umbrella, but it was all in a good cause and much in the spirit of the occasion.
First up was The Guest, the latest from American director Adam Wingard. Wingard has contributed to anthology films including the first two V/H/S sets and The ABCs Of Death, as well as giving us last year’s well received country house thriller You’re Next. Wingard has a trump card for The Guest in the shape of Dan Stevens, who you might know better as Downton Abbey’s Matthey Crawley. I don’t know Downton at all, but on this evidence I might be tempted to give it a go. Stevens is David, a soldier who’s just been discharged from the army and calls in on the family of a recently deceased fellow platoon member. He’s invited to stay and quickly ingratiates himself with the family, winning over the sceptical father (Leland Orser) and handing out an ass-whooping to the school bullies threatening son Luke (Brendan Meyer). It’s only daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) who starts to suspect David might just be too good to be true, but as local reports of trouble turn to corpses, she might not be able to convince her family before it’s too late.
Where You’re Next was aiming for old-fashioned chills in a dark country mansion, The Guest is lighter and airier in almost every sense. There’s a slow-burn set-up before a second act sequence reveals the true nature of the family’s visitor. That sequence is so packed full of clichés that you’d almost think it was stock footage, dropped in purely for exposition, and there’s little to surprise in terms of plot developments, but it does pay off later in the film with some bombastic gun battles. The Guest is absolutely Stevens’ film, as he swaggers, broods and brandishes his butter-wouldn’t-melt grin, an avenging anti-hero roaming through the town and having huge amounts of fun in the process. Many of the laughs are knowing, but none the worse for that, and by the climax – set in the Hallowe’en dance at the local school, naturally – the perfect pay-off to a supremely entertaining dark comedy. The only shame is that it was shown at tea-time on a weekday, as it should best be enjoyed late on a Friday night with a beer in hand and a few mates for company, but the FrightFest crowd still lapped it up.
The Score: 8/10
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
Somehow Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have managed to prevaricate for nine years about pulling together a follow-up to their genre defining, über-stylised noir Sin City. The closest anyone had ever come to ripping the pages of a comic book out and pasting them onto a cinema screen, it inspired a thousand imitators but its green-screen driven, washed out aesthetic and mix of stark primary colours against the black and white framing left a mark that’s been difficult to erase from the memory, but also nigh-on impossible to replicate. Rodriguez and Miller have had a second attempt to capture lightning in a bottle, this time with Miller contributing two new stories to further adaptations of his own comic books, and with a story structure that attempts to function as both prequel and sequel to the original anthology.
Consequently, a mixture of characters return from the original, with Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba and villain Powers Boothe cropping up again, while others have been recast either due to death (Michael Clarke Duncan being replaced by Dennis Haysbert) or narrative reasons (Clive Owen now benched in favour of Josh Brolin). Most notable newbies this time are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green, and the cast is further fleshed out with the likes of Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Christopher Lloyd and even Lady Gaga in small roles.
As valiant an effort as it is, sadly the magic from the original doesn’t sustain to the same level here. Sure, there are plenty of individual moments that titillate or thrill to some extent, but the plot seems to be working against them forming a coherent whole. The chapter style feels more choppy than it did first time out, and if you’ve not seen the original recently I’d suggest a little homework might be in order to keep track who’s done what to who and who knows who might just help. Green is the most effective addition to the cast, devouring any man within a five mile radius and flaunting here curves against some (almost comedically convenient) shadows covering up her lady bits.
Tonally, this follow-up has more flashes of Machete and its sequels, Rodriguez’ other pet project since the first film, and the all-pervading sense of gloom and the brutish noir feel of Sin City are replaced by something which feels that, if left alone, it would have sagged into full-blown parody after another half an hour. There’s also a great trick of Miller’s script attempting to empower the female characters but still coming off as weirdly misogynistic much of the time.Oddly the 3D, while being expertly realised, works against the mood and heightens the plastic artificiality to the detriment of what’s being attempted in a narrative sense, and it also increases the “uncanny valley” feeling of the eyes of many of the leads; especially bizarre when these are real people, not CGI constructs. A moderately pleasing follow-up, then, and one that will grate or irritate as often as it impresses.
The Score: 6/10
Zombeavers doesn’t waste any time setting its stall out: a pre-credits sequence which features two idiotic truck drivers engaging in weird banter before running over a deer and, in the process, spilling dangerous chemicals over possibly the most fake-looking animatronic beavers ever captured on film. Zombeavers is a B-movie in heart, soul and beaver. At 76 minutes it (just about) doesn’t outstay its welcome, throwing in just about all the tropes you’d expect and leaving out all the originality you’d expect as well. Very much a midnight movie that’s a cut above the normal level of quality and laughs you’d get from a SyFy channel-type movie, but it never quite manages to get past the one joke of its premise. The highlight for me was the gloriously inappropriate Sinatra-style song over the closing credits, but the rest of Zombeavers still manages enough moments of bitey, rabid looking fun to make it worth a watch.
The Score: 6/10
Friday was a work day for me, but I’m back in on Saturday for The Babadook (which, on seeing the trailer, caused the person sat behind me to develop Tourette’s though fear alone) and Life After Beth.