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Review: Smiley

The DVD Pile

Smiley DVD 001There have been a few films that have played around with the story concepts in this thriller but even naming them would probably be a spoiler. I have been very unimpressed by attempts by film-makers to tackle internet culture and social media and despite a few accurate sounding name-drops and cultural references this film doesn’t really buck that trend. It starts out quite well but I got a bit fed up by the middle and the ending was a total face palm.

Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) is just starting college but her father is not sure if she is ready because she has been getting treatment for bipolar disorder after her mother died. She is sharing a house with another student called Proxy (Melanie Papalia) and that name is little on the nose. Proxy is pushy and brash and talks Ashley into coming to a party.

This party is for people who met on-line on a message board and Proxy drops the names 4chan and Anonymous when she explains it to Ashley but Ashley is unfamiliar with those names. The host is a real sleaze called Zane (Andrew James Allen) and the other guests are bunch of self-centered nasty little pricks except one guy called Binder (Shane Dawson) who gets kicked out of the party for having some moral standards. There are people on a computer using some anonymised chatroom application and talking about Smiley. This is a highly derivative urban legend where someone is chatting with someone else and they type “I did it for the lulz,” three times then Smiley appears and kills the other person and we see this apparently happening. Proxy actually lampshades the original Bloody Mary legend when describing it.

Everyone else is laughing it off but Ashley thinks it might be real. Later back their house after convincing themselves that it can’t be Proxy and Ashley decide to test it out to see if it is true. They choose some sleazy guy who insists on baring his flesh to the camera and wants them to do the same. Ashley types the words three times and they giggle at his reaction. Their giggles come to abrupt halt when a masked figure kills the man and leers at them. They are freaked out and though there is still room for some doubt they are convinced the guy was really killed.

Ashley wants to go to the police or the FBI but Proxy convinces her that they have no evidence. The anonymous protection on the chatroom means they don’t know who was killed or where. Ashley agrees not to tell anyone but she has nightmares about Smiley.

Ashley visits a psychiatrist and tells her about her anxiety but avoids telling her the details of what is making her anxious. She also talks to Binder who has some strange ideas about what Smiley is. At least he seems to believe her.

Zane contacts Proxy and Ashley and it turns it he is just as scared as they are since he can’t get in touch with many of the hackers in their group. They think Smiley is coming for them and Ashley tries turning to the police but just as Proxy had said earlier they have no bodies and no evidence any crimes were committed.

The climax of the film is the most disappointing part of the film and I really hoped they wouldn’t go with the ending that they used. I really wanted to see something different instead we get a twist that wasn’t too surprising. The film didn’t have lot of big budget effects but the deaths looked real enough. This film reinforces exaggerated fears about the internet and social media rather than offering any real insight into it and It’s just another schlocky thriller.

Rating 5.0/10

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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: The Tall Man

DVD Review

The Tall Man DVD 001This is a difficult to film to give any good outline of the plot because it one of those films that appears to be one thing but twists around so much that I really had no idea where it was going to go. This is unusual since I’ve seen so many variations of plot before that it really is rare treat to find one that had me guessing and not just thinking WTF.

Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is a nurse in the run-down mining town of Cold Stone and the film starts with the police searching for a missing boy and police detective Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) questioning a bleeding and shaken Julia while her injuries are treated by a nurse. We get a voiceover introducing us to the town and the curse of the missing children stolen by a character which locals have named the Tall Man, a large hooded figure that has been seen by locals. None of the missing children have been found dead or alive

The film jumps to 36 hours earlier and we see Tracy (Samantha Ferris) and her daughter Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) helping her other daughter Carol (Katherine Ramdeen) to Julia’s house. Carol is doubled over with crippling pain and Tracy begs for Julia’s help. They get Carol into the clinic and as soon as they get her coat off the diagnosis is obvious to everyone: Carol is pregnant and is in labour. Jenny helps Carol to deliver her baby, despite it being breach birth. The baby takes its time to start breathing for itself so Julia has to give it some artificial respiration to get it started. Julia has questions about how Carol got pregnant and hid it for so long and it’s clear after a couple of unanswered questions that Tracy’s useless violent boyfriend Steven is the father. Julia pleads with Tracy to get rid of him but she claims it’s complicated.

The town of Cold Stone is dying slowly and painfully since the mine closed which was the town’s only industry. This has put enormous strain on families and often it is the children who would suffer. On top of all that is fear of the Tall Man. Julia and her husband Dr Robert Denning (Garwin Sanford) had come to Cold Stone and set up practice after years of travelling in the poorest parts of the world and doing charity medical work. He really helped the town out a lot but when he died Jenny could not fill the gap he left but she tries her hardest.

Julia visits Tracy next day and Steven (Teach Grant) is still around, giving Julia grief for interfering in his life. Tracy tells Julia that she sent Carol and her baby to stay with her sister in Seattle and she needs to take her time with getting Steven out. Since baby and mother are gone Julia leaves but stops on the way to talk to Jenny who is the film’s occasional narrator. This is ironic because Jenny cannot talk and communicates with Julia by writing in her sketchbook or showing her pictures she has drawn. Jenny wants to know what Julia thinks of the Tall Man and Jenny dismisses it as a story but Jenny writes that she has seen him.

Julia goes to the diner for a coffee and one of the locals Douglas (John Mann) is sitting with Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) talking about what sort of horror the missing children have gone through. Suddenly a bedraggled confused looking woman Mrs Johnson (Colleen Wheeler) appears at the window but doesn’t enter. Her son has gone missing recently and it seems to have unhinged her mind. Julia tries to take her a cup of coffee but she runs off in fear when Julia comes near her.

That night Julia goes home and her babysitter Christine (Eve Harlow) has been taking care of her young son David (Jakob Davies) while Julia was out. Now she’s home they can have dinner and David shows Julia a mathematical trick Christine taught him. After dinner David goes to bed while Julia relaxes with a drink.

Julia falls asleep in her chair but wakes up when she hears a noise. She finds Christine tied up and shoved in a cupboard. She hunts for David in his room and every room then sees a hooded figure in black carrying David away out the door. Julia goes after the figure to rescue her son. That’s when we start to discover the secrets of the Tall Man and that changes everything that we thought we knew was true.

I really enjoyed this film and I liked the way lets you get comfortable with the type of the story you think you are getting before whipping that all away. I can understand with the marketing that some might get the impression that is a horror story but it is really more of a mystery thriller that I had to keep watching to see where the film was going as every one my stupid guesses about where it was going were proven wrong.

Rating 8.0/10

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Sinister

October Horror Month

I know most of the films I’ll be reviewing this month are not very recent but this film was just released In UK on October 5 so I traipsed along to local multiplex and had a look.

The film starts with an 8mm film of four members of a family with bags on their heads and nooses around their necks. They are raised into the air and slowly die struggling for their lives. With no introductory music the film cuts straight into the story. True crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new house where can investigate the brutal of a local family. As they move their stuff into their new house they get a visit from the town Sherriff (Fred Dalton Thompson) and his Deputy (James Ransone). The Sherriff has read Oswalt’s book and while he think his big hit Kentucky Blood was excellent he’s less impressed with his follow-up books. The Sherriff doesn’t want the media circus in his town that seems to follow publication of one of Oswalt’s books. He also thinks moving into the house of murder victims is very poor taste.

Oswalt’s wife Tracy (Juliet Rylance) is generally supportive of his work but it disturbs her and she doesn’t want know anything about the subject of his book, she just want his assurance that they haven’t moved in a few doors from a murder scene and like a politician he assures her that they haven’t and doesn’t tell her that they are living in the murder house itself. They have a teenage son Trevor and a young daughter Ashley who are not happy with moving. Oswalt gets his office set-up and it’s like the HQ of a police murder investigation. Once the family have moved everything in there’s a box of stuff that has to go in the attic (typical, just moved in and they already have junk they don’t need). The attic is empty except for a box and a scorpion. Oswalt drops the box he’s carrying onto the scorpion crushing it. He looks inside the mysterious box and finds an 8mm film projector and several cans of film.

Back in his office he watches the first film and it starts showing the family playing in the garden before it gets to the killings that we saw at the start of the film. This film’s existence raises many questions and Oswalt notes them down and pins them to his evidence boards. The family were all found dead except for the youngest daughter who is still missing. The other films show other families being murdered in different places and different times, the earliest being in the 60s. In one film which features a family being drowned in their swimming pool Oswalt spots a sinister demonic figure. He transfers the films onto a digital video after being reminded of the fragility of film. He discovers the sinister figure is in all the films somewhere in the background and there is a strange pagan symbol painted somewhere on the scene.

Next night Oswalt is awakened when he hears a noise from a box in the kitchen and finds Trevor in the box and he starts screaming when Oswalt goes to him. Trevor suffers from both sleepwalking and night terrors and there is a suggestion in Tracy’s tone that his terrors might come from seeing Oswalt’s work on earlier books hence her insistence on the strict rules that no-one goes in Oswalt’s office and he keeps the door locked

Oswalt is awakened by things going bump in the night but the noise turns out to a small snake in the attic. Oswalt stumbles and falls through a weak board right through the ceiling below. A couple of paramedics come patch him up and he’s happy. He also meets the Deputy who wants an autograph. The Deputy is a fan of his work and wants to help him any way he can with his book and he helps Oswalt get back background information on the other murders and make the connection that the youngest child went missing each time. The Deputy is pretty smart and Oswalt lets him into his office to see his boards. When Oswalt brings up ritualistic elements and the symbol The Deputy gives him the number of a Professor Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio).

Jonas eventually gets back to him and tells him the symbol is of the pagan god Bagul also known as the child eater. Each murdered family had one member of the family missing, the youngest child. Jonas mentions that people used to believe that the spirit of Bagul lived in the images of him and he could cross into the real world through them so the Christian church had most of the images of him destroyed.

Oswalt is a writer who is now living in shadow of his most successful work but he doesn’t have the same pure desire for justice that motivated him to write that book. Now he is after fame and success and has found inspiration can’t just be switched on to order. He finally realises the danger he’s put his family in but can he really run from Bagul?

This quite a nice tense supernatural horror film which does borrow ideas from other films but I liked the way it was all put together. There have been several recent supernatural horror films that fall apart at the ending but I thought that this one had good ending that was well set up before the payoff twist at the end. There was only one downside to me and that was use of scary things the audience sees but the characters don’t. I know it’s an old technique that is used to build up tension but it wasn’t done very well here and I was almost giggling at one of these scenes. I reckon this film is worth a watch

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Elfie Hopkins

This film was a blind buy at the local HMV because I had heard nothing about it. The cover hints at a humorous dark comedy and although the film has a sense of humour it is actually more dramatic than I expected.It had some of the feel of a cosy British detective drama but it ups the stake quite a bit towards the end.

The title character Elfie Hopkins (Jaime Winstone) is an aspiring detective who seems to play the role of a detective to cope with her feelings about losing her mother in a tragic accident that she blames herself for. When a new family move in next door she takes an interest in them, concludes that they are up to something and starts investigating them. Or at least she gets her best friend Parker (Aneurin Barnard) to do it. Parker is obsessed with Elfie and willing to do anything for her.

The new neighbours, the Gammons are very friendly and invite all their neighbours round for drinks. Mr Gammon (Rupert Evans) works as a travel agent who specialises in remote exotic holidays and they who have travelled across the world themselves before choosing to settle in their village with his wife (Kate Magowan) and children. When drink causes old rivalries to erupt between two of the men Mr Gammon uses his easy charm to put an end to it and even cynical Elfie starts to warm to him. She still send Parker to case out the house upstairs where he meets their scary over-the-top daughter Ruby Gammon (Gwyneth Keyworth) who takes a liking to Parker. There’s also the creepy son Elliot (Will Payne) who dresses in black and is obsessed with guns, knives and hunting

Elfie and Parker talk to the local butcher Mr Bryn (Ray Winstone) who tells them that Mr Gammon asked him to sharpen his knives which are much more ornate and expensive than his own. This only counts as slightly strange so he tells them a creepy and pointless story about a killer stag he had to kill one time. It is the most gratuitous padding of a part I’ve ever seen.

Parker starts out finding more about the Gammons but Elfie takes the more direct approach of looking in their window. Mr Gammon discovers her but he’s nice and patient and even shows her some yoga. Elfie starts thinking he’s the coolest person in the village. Parker has discovered that everywhere that the family stayed has seen a number of mysterious disappearances. Elfie has always enjoyed playing the detective but she and Parker may find themselves in over their heads when they discover the Gammons’ grisly secret.

This film has the look of a British detective show set in the quiet countryside but this has a lot more violence, death and gore. I thought that Elfie’s quirkiness would get annoying but they sort of  tried to justify it and the character goes though some growth through the film. The acting is pretty average for the most part but Rupert Evans is pretty good as the charming Mr Gammon. It doesn’t have big budget but the film-makers make the most of what they had. I did like the film and if you like low-budget independent films you might enjoy it too.

Rating 6.5/10

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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Truth or Dare

I’ve been told that this film has been titled Truth of Die for the US release. This is a low-budget independent British film and at first I thought I was going to hate it as I took a dislike to almost all of the characters but as the film went on and more got revealed I felt more drawn into the story and I was never sure quite where the story was going to go.

Five college students go to a large sprawling country estate for the birthday party of Felix (Tom Kane), a nervous unpopular nerdy boy that they know from college. A year before they had all been to party where they had played a game of Truth or Dare that went wrong leaving Felix feeling humiliated. Felix was very nervous at the party and Luke (Alexander Vlahos) the drug dealer gives him a couple of lines of coke. With his confidence chemically boosted Felix talks to Gemma (Florence Hall), a woman he likes and although she doesn’t agree to go out with him it’s a pleasant enough conversation and anyway she’s dating the more aggressive Chris (Jack Gordon). Then Eleanor (Jennie Jacques) comes downstairs angry about her boyfriend Paul (Liam Boyle) passing out on her. She has an empty bottle wants to play Truth or Dare. I think it’s on the second spin it picks Felix who gets asked to choose anyone male or female that he’d choose to sleep with. He chooses Gemma knowing she already knows how he feels but Chris takes offence to this and punches Felix ending the party game on a downer.

They get to Felix’s house and its a massive country house and it clear the Felix comes from serious money. The ground-keeper Woodbridge (David Oakes) tells them the party is being held in cottage half a mile along a trail that’s too rough for their cars. At the cottage they are greeted by Justin (David Oakes) Felix’s older brother. He tells them the party was called off because Felix is abroad in Chile.  Of course it turns out that Felix’s birthday party is a trick and Felix isn’t there but his violent unstable older brother Justin wants pay back for the way his brother was treated and he wants to play his own version of Truth or Dare with them. It all starts off innocent enough but soon the dares become fatal and for some the truth hurts even more

At first I thought that this film was going down the well-worn path of the vengeance horror but it delivered a bit more depth than that and the question of responsibility comes into sharp focus. I did really dislike a few of the characters but this is because the actors were doing a good job playing these unpleasant characters. There are scenes of torture in this but there’s more psychology involved than physical pain (think Guantanamo Bay more than Saw) and it doesn’t have too much gore. Overall it’s an interesting film that’s worth the watch.

Rating 6.5/10

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Total Recall (2012)

Another remake of a ‘classic‘science fiction film of the 80s what sacrilege, whatever happened to original ideas blah blah blah. To be honest this remake did intrigue me right from when I heard about it.  I really enjoy the original which did a good job Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale into a big action blockbuster. This film has just as much action and it comes at a frantic pace. It sets up a fairly intriguing future world and goes into some detail to make it look real.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is feeling unsettled. At night he dreams of a different life but wakes to a life of low income in a crap factory job making security robots on the other side of the Earth and he has to travel there every day. He has beautiful wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) but he just wants something more.

The world has been through some very hard times. Over-population has scarred the world once more with biological warfare and left most of the surface uninhabitable except for two zones, the wealthy United British Federation (UBF) that occupies the British Isles and north-western Europe, and the Colony which occupies Australasia which is much poorer, which is why Quaid has to travel though the Earth the every day to work.

This daily travel is by means of The Fall, a large capsule which free falls through a tunnel bored right through the Earth between the two regions. The Fall is powered purely by gravity and this is totally feasible if the problem of tunnelling though all that hot liquid rock can be solved.

Quaid is interested in the services of a company Recall who can implant memories of exciting lives to brighten up those who lives are dull and unsatisfactory. The technology has a sleazy reputation and Quaid’s work colleague Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) tells him a scare story about the risk of brain damage. Later on a new worker tells him Harry is talking crap because he’s used it with no damage. He gives Quaid a card for the place and tells him who to ask for.

That night Quaid goes to the Recall Lounge where he listens to the sales pitch and chooses to have the memory of a secret agent implanted. The tech McClane (John Cho) explains that they have to scan his brain because if they try to implant a memory that is true it can cause a conflict that can damage the brain. McClane is looking through his memories while other techs get him set up in the machine and the start the process. Just before it starts McClane spots a problem, Quaid actually is a spy. He halts the process immediately. A squad of armed federal agents burst in on the place and shoot all the staff dead. Quaid is frightened and confused which seems to trigger a physical memory of being a bad ass and he Jason Bournes the agents killing them all and escaping before more arrive.

Quaid goes home and tells Lori all about it. She doesn’t seem to believe him but she hugs him and tells him it will be all right. Her hug turns to an attempt to choke him to death. Lori is not his wife and he’s not Quaid and because he knows this Lori is going to kill him. She’s under orders from the leader of UBF Chancellor Cohaagen (Brian Cranston) to not kill Quaid but she has her own ideas on that subject. Quaid and Lori fight then Quaid escapes and Lori chases him. A lot. While running and escaping from Lori and the police Quaid gets rescued by rebel fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) who knows him from his real life and who helps him find out who really is and why Cohaagen wants him.

This film has so much action you barely get time t breath and it really does give you the sense that Quaid is constantly under pressure either being chase by Lori or trying to stop Cohaagen’s plans. Well, he did wish for an interesting life. The film looks really good with a lot of work done in creating a future world that looks both futuristic and decayed. I liked all the futuristic stuff like the maglev cars, the vertical cities and the 3D elevators. I can see the influence of films like Blade runner in look of the Colony and it also reminded me of the over-crowded sprawl of Williams Gibson’s future settings in stories like Neuromancer.

Colin Farrell turns in a really solid performance in this, Jessica Biel was okay as Melina and Brian Cranston was good as usual but I think Kate Beckinsale really hit this one home. Her character is a combination of two characters in the original film that were played by Michael Ironside and Sharon Stone but she is much more physical and relentless in this.

The story is interesting but it has the same plot twists as the original so if you seen that you know what’s coming even if the details have changed. It still about a man trying to discover who he was and realising that it’s who he is now that matters.The rich and powerful are still stomping on the weak and powerless and the hero has to step up and stop him. Overall its a lot of fun but it doesn’t do much more than the original.

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Absentia

I really like finding a film that I have never heard of before that manages to creep me out, especially when it does it with such a small budget.

Tricia (Courtney Bell) is a pregnant woman living on her own since her husband Danny (Morgan Peter Brown) went missing seven years before and she is going through the bureaucracy of having him legally declared dead so she can get on with her life. She has invited her younger sister Callie (Katie Parker) to stay with her, possibly because she needs some company at this time, but also because Callie is a recovering drug addict and she needs somewhere to stay. Det. Ryan Mallory (Dave Levine) is the police detective assigned to Danny’s case and he is helping Tricia with filling out the final documentation to have Danny declared legally dead in absentia. Emotionally this is very tough on Tricia and she starts seeing scary images of Danny all over the place and in her nightmares but her psychiatrist assures her that this is a reaction to the highly charged emotions she is going through.

Callie goes jogging every morning and her route takes her through scary graffiti-covered tunnel very close to Tricia’s apartment. When she returns one morning she finds a frail injured man (Doug Jones) lying in the tunnel barely conscious and she assumes he is a homeless junkie. He wakes as she tries to creep past and he seems surprised that Carrie can see him and begs her for help and tries to offer her a handful of shiny baubles and jewels. Carrie assumes he just wants money and promises to bring him out some food. She returns to a few minutes later with food in a Tupperware box but the man is gone so she leaves the box at the mouth of the tunnel.

Next morning after her jog (avoiding the tunnel this time) she finds a bunch of shiny things on the doorstep of the apartment building. She takes them to the tunnel and lays them down at the entrance but is warned to not do that by a strange nervous young man who is there to leave mysteriously animated bag at the entrance. Carrie starts investigating and discovers there have been many disappearances in this area and the threat is much stranger and older than anyone suspects.

This film really did creep me out and it did that with only hints at what is going on. The sound is very important in creating the sense of dread but the direction and acting really does draw me into the story and my imagination did the rest. There is a really emotional portrayal of what it is like to have loved ones disappear and especially how not knowing what really happened to them stops people from being able to move on. I recommend giving this film a look.

Rating 8/10

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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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