Tag Archives: Psychological Thriller

Review: Sanitarium

DVD Review

Sanitarium DVD 001This is a bargain bin buy that turned out to be a decent find,  It’s not a classic but one that I can probably watch again. It’s an anthology film that owes a debt to films like Asylum from Amicus Productions. It has a cast of experienced actors and they all get a chance to show what they can do in this exploration of madness.

Dr Stenson (Malcolm McDowell) is a psychiatrist in charge of a sanatorium. The linking theme is that he has three patients who have very strange stories which is a very loose way of linking them together. Each linking section has Stenson being contemplative and directly addressing the audience with his thoughts. This often felt a bit cheesy but it is usually short.

The first story Figuratively Speaking stars John Glover as Gustav Spieler, an artist who is barely sane and he has created creepy looking dioramas with articulated figures made of clay and is being lauded as a genius though they looked to me like the sort of highly stylized stop motion figures familiar from East European animation. Gustav is so unworldly that he completely relies on his close friends such as his assistant Mateo (Walter Perez) and his agent Sam (Robert Englund) to keep him alive, fed and medicated. He is apparently such a great success there are calls for him to take his creations to New York. His figures seem to come to life and whisper lies and fears into his ears that drive him to commit awful crimes. It’s a straightforward tale of betrayal and guilt and has a gimmicky little pay-off at the end.

The second story Monsters Are Real is introduced by having a medical student preparing a research paper looking for an interesting case study. Steven (David Mazouz) is normal eight year old boy who has an abusive relationship with his father (Chris Mulkey) who spends his time boozing at a strip club. While sitting in class of the concerned young teacher Ms Lorne (Lacey Chabert) he sees a hooded figure outside the window. He keeps seeing this figure stalking him and it turns out to be some sort of monster but is he real and is he there to hurt him or protect him? This story is fairly short but is definitely the film’s weakest and though there are dark hints at the abuse Steven is suffering it is not given enough time to develop it. The story has the little gimmicky ending again with the medical student and the now adult catatonic Steven.

The last story Up To The Last Man is the strongest and it stars Lou Diamond Phillips as university professor John Silo whose descent into madness is accompanied by a growing obsession with the story of a Mayan prophesy predicting the end of the world on December 21 2012. The story mainly features him alone in shelter that he had built and we see in flashbacks the gradual process of his alienation from the world as his students abandon his class and he loses his job and his family. He hears people pounding on the door of his shelter but he is sure everyone is dead and this is either his madness or the Annunaki, alien beings from the Demon Planet Nibiru predicted in prophesy. It has the most gimmicky ending leaking into the linking narrative but is more effectively worked into the story than in the other two stories.

This film has a modest budget so there is not really too much special effects and the gore is minimal. What is does have is some good actors and interesting writing as well as some wooden or downright hammy acting. This reminded me a lot of TV anthology series like Tales of the Unexpected or Twilight Zone and I would not be shocked to find out it was a pilot for such a series. It isn’t the most original film but it is fairly atmospheric and I liked it.

Rating 6.5/10

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: Soul Survivors

The DVD cover has that group shot that hint heavily that is one those films that appeared in the wake of Scream starring actors from popular TV series all posed in a tight group looking straight out at the camera.Their prominence in the photograph reflects their fame more than it does their prominence in the film since Melissa Sagemillar, who plays lead character, is squeezed in at the back. This doesn’t really fill me with confidence and while I expected it to be just typical college horror film copying Scream it turned out I was wrong. This more of a supernatural mystery film but it still isn’t very original or scary.

Two young couples are out drinking Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) and Sean (Casey Affleck) with Matt (Wes Bentley) and Annabel (Eliza Dushku). Matt and Annabel suggest they go to a rave in a remote abandoned church where they dance and Cassie has to fight off the advances of strange masked man. She goes to find Sean and they go outside, not noticing Matt who hides himself behind the car and he listens in on their conversation like a creepy villain. Sean tells Cassie he loves her but there is an awkward moment when she does not say it back. Matt and Cassie used to be in relationship and Sean wonders if Cassie still has feelings for him. That’s when Matt makes his presence known, pretending to be drunk. Sean goes back into the rave to fetch Annabel so they can leave. Once Sean is gone Matt reveals he is not drunk and he wants Cassie to kiss him, just a goodbye kiss, honest, nothing else to it at all. By the time Cassie agrees Sean has returned with Annabel and he sees the kiss. This soapy melodrama is starting to get annoying

They drive off with an awkward mood in the car. Sean doesn’t want to talk but Cassie is protesting her innocence. They don’t notice another car full of people from the rave passing them. In fact a short while later they turn a corner and the other car is across the road in front of them and they smash headfirst into it. Afterwards it turns out Sean has been killed and the others survived but Cassie keeps getting the impression that she can see him and that he’s trying to communicate with her. She also keeps seeing creepy people from the rave chasing after her. As time passes the visions get scarier, she no longer trusts her friends and she turns to a priest Father Jude (Luke Wilson) at the local church for help.

This is not really a horror film at all but the film’s script does deliberately mislead you into thinking it’s going that way. The film is full of scary characters and suspicious behaviour seen through the eyes of a character with an increasingly unreliable point of view but it didn’t really work for me. Perhaps I‘ve seen this type of story too often before on film and TV but I saw what they were trying to do so for me it was more case of seeing how they were trying to do it and I was not surprised by the big reveal towards the end.

Rating 6/10

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Posted by on August 4, 2012 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: The Lazarus Project

Into the cheap DVD pile again and this one caught my eye. This film is a psychological thriller and though it doesn’t have a bright glossy look, loads of action or a huge budget it is a fairly decent low-key film with reasonable acting and an interesting storyline

Ben Garvey (Paul Walker) is a former thief just off of parole and making plans for his future with his wife Lisa (Piper Perabo) and daughter Katie. His brother Ricky comes to see him fresh out of jail and wants his help for another robbery. Ban refuses at first but when he loses his job he agrees out of desperation. The robbery goes tragically wrong and three men end up dead, including Ricky. This is Texas which means justice equals state-sanctioned vengeance and despite the fact that Ben didn’t kill anyone he gets a death sentence. With indecent haste Ben ends ups strapped to a bizarre cross-shaped thing being put to death with chemicals.

Next thing he’s hitching a ride from Father Ezra (Bob Gunton) to a psychiatric institute in Oregon where he is to start his new job as a grounds-keeper. He has vague memories of being brought here after his execution and told that he has been given a second chance but he must give up on his old life with Lisa and Katie. A mysterious man called Avery (Lambert Wilson) warns him the only death awaits him if he leaves this town. Ben does try to leave on a bus back to Texas but Avery gets on the bus and convinces him he’s in danger. He manages to convince Ben to get off the bus and when Ben sees  the news the following day of a bus crash he thinks Avery was telling the truth.

Any more plot outline would have spoilers because this film has a few twists and turns after this. Like most psychological thrillers this film takes its time to develop the characters so it is fortunate the cast pull it off convincingly enough, especially Paul Walker. The story has a lot of red herrings and I was really expecting the plot to go some stupid way but it didn’t. Though I can’t say too much without revealing  too much the ending was a little too pat and cliché. Still it did have few things on the subject of identity and responsibility for one’s actions. Julie Ingram a psychiatrist at the institute says to Ben at one point “There’s a struggle. How do you live if you’re ruled by your past? But, how do you let go of a past that made you?”

Rating 6.7/10

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: Black Swan

Bluray Review

Black Swan Bluray 001This film has been reviewed so much I really don’t think I’m going to bring anything new but I need to give it try.This is about Nina Sayer (Natalie Portman) a young ballet dancer who dreams of dancing the role of the Swan Queen in the ballet Swan Lake. It seems her dream is coming true when Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) the director of the ballet company chooses her for the role – the problem is that his production calls for the dancer dancing the Swan Queen to also dance the role of the Black Swan. Nina’s obsession with technical perfection as well her withdrawn personality are what gets in the way of convincingly dancing the primal seductive role of the Black Swan.  Another dancer Lilly (Mila Kunis) is more fun, relaxed and sexually mature than Nina and is also the alternate choice for her role which makes Nina nervous. She also has a mother who treats Nina like a little girl, gives her no privacy and wants to know where she is every hour of the day.  The pressure takes it toll on Nina who starts to hallucinate seeing fleeting glimpses of a doppelgänger.

Near to opening night Lilly takes Nina out drinking in defiance of Nina’s mother. Lily gives Nina a drug to relax her and introduces her to a couple of men and they go out for a wild night of clubbing  This opens up Nina to her sexual nature and we see the Black Swan coming out in Nina more and the line between dream and reality is shattered. This builds up to the opening night where Nina opens herself up to the darkness and obsession inside herself to perform.

The first time I saw this I was totally floored by the last act. Nina’s breakdown is subtle at the start of the film, but it builds in intensity until the neurotic dancer who started the film emerges on the stage as a complete maniac. Nina has no idea what is real any more and nor do we. I am not really sure why I got so drawn into this story. I liked that there was no sub-plot and the film concentrated on Nina allowing us to empathise with her all the way on her journey into madness right up to the last scene which was perfect.

Rating 10/10

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Entertainment, Film


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