Horror, Impressions

Impressions: The Invitation

The phrase “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” would translate fairly well to my hesitation to watch this film. It came highly recommended to me by Netflix (a hit or miss recommendation at best). Due to my knowing almost nothing about it, the description of the movie, and the pictures used for it I brushed it off. It seemed like a fairly standard slasher flick. Now I don’t mean to be a horror movie snob, I am not. I love a good dumb but fun slasher flick every once in awhile, but they don’t tend to get me excited. Now that I’ve gotten to see this movie, I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

The Invitation feels more like a character piece than a horror film. The main character, Will and his current significant other have been invited to a dinner party held by his ex wife, Eden. He is uncomfortable with the idea of going, and there are slow hints that this is more than just a lack of desire to spend the evening with an ex. As they arrive at the house he begins to have flash backs, and slowly the full story is revealed. Eden and Will had a son who died in an accident, and the two fell apart as a result. Eden becomes suicidal and is sent to get help, where she meets her current husband. Will manages to hold it together more on the outside, but inside he is plagued with guilt and doesn’t actually want to move on, believing it would be betraying his son. Both have become isolated from their friends, and this dinner party is the first time the group has gotten together in two years.

Will’s story is told largely in a series of flashbacks. He slowly moves around the house remembering everything from happy moments, to the actual loss of his son. He does not cope well with being back in the house he once lived in (and where he lost his child). It begins to manifest in anger and paranoia towards Eden and her husband. Will believes that there is some other reason that out of the blue Eden has called them all together.

Eden’s story is slowly revealed during the party. The group she went to is actually part of a cult called “The Invitation”. Through it she has let go of her pain, but it’s clear she is not exactly the woman they all remember. The cult itself is rather unnerving to the group, as are Eden’s new friends that she met while away.

As the movie unfolds it’s rather unclear if Will is actually going mad from his guilt and memories, or if he is right to suspect that Eden is a danger to them. The movie builds a large amount of tension, as no side is presented as being together. For everything that Will finds proving that Eden and her husband are a danger, Will does something that proves that he is unhinged. The group is stuck in the middle trying to help a grieving Will, but stay supportive of their old friend. It makes it all the more challenging as the characters reveal themselves to be good people, and rather loving. It’s a horror movie so you know something is going to happen, but the movie manages to keep you on edge until it does.

It’s a slow pace, suspenseful character driven story that explodes in a rather big climax. I have complained about movies doing this before, as it is very easy to mess up. The Invitation manages to pull it off extremely well. When things finally start to happen it’s fast, dramatic, horrific, and rather depressing. What is going on doesn’t completely come as a surprise, while the movie does try to present you with two paths it’s fairly easy to pick out the one that it will come to. This is not a complaint, the movie does a great job keeping you entertained until that point. It also manages to get one more last shocking moment in right at the end.

Aside from the story and pacing being on point everything else flows together to help. The acting is solid, each character fitting their roles well. The cinematography fits well with the story, with a few interesting shots that help drive the drama. What really got me was the way that sound is used. There is almost no non-diegetic sounds or music used at any point in the film. It becomes rather jarring at various points, and keeps the viewer in the moment. When the movie needs to build tension it uses the characters and their surroundings to do so instead of a tense soundtrack, and it can be highly effective.

Bottomline:

This film won’t make you scream, but it will stay with you. It’s haunting, incredibly well done, and suspenseful. It is certainly one of the best modern horror films I have seen, and is worth a watch.

Horror, Impressions

Impressions: The Forest

I want to get this out of the way before diving into the the main meat of the impressions, there was a lot of controversy with this film. Many people felt that the movie mishandled both the way it represented Japanese people, as well as how it handled suicide and depression. I can see where people are coming from with these arguments, however it’s not something I feel comfortable speaking on as I am not expert.

The Forest is features Natalie Dormer stepping into the role of identical twins Sara and Jess. Many people were curious because they feel Dormer has been untested outside of Game of Thrones and this would be a chance to see what she could do with not one but two roles. Aside from Dormer the actual plot of the film seemed fairly interesting to many. However, with all said and done what is the take away?

Story:

Jess and Sara are identical twins, with Jess always being the more problematic of the sisters. Jess moves to Japan and goes missing on a class trip, to Aokigahara Forest. Sara believes Jess is still alive due to a special connection they share as twins. Sara goes to Japan to search for Jess, and meets writer Aiden who agrees to take her into the forest with a guide, Michi. While there Sara begins to be taunted by her own inner sadness, her need to find Jess, and the spirits in the forest themselves.

Impressions:

I try not to start these pieces being overly negative, but there is not a lot I can say positively about this movie. It’s boring. Not bad, not gross, not over the top, boring. It sets up predictable jumps scares that fall flat, has no tension, and completely fails to bring any suspense. A movie about two people isolated in a forest (a forest known for suicide or not) should be really scary. Add in one of the characters going a little mad, and you should have a slam dunk. Instead The Forest is just flat.

The foundation is solid. As I said an isolation piece can be very effective, as can dealing with madness. It attempts to build tension by the location chosen, a place known for suicide, and deals heavily with the idea of what’s real or not. So with all the good ideas it’s rather surprising that nothing comes out of it. I struggle to put my finger on what exactly goes wrong, and the best I can guess at is it tries too hard.

When dealing with the idea of what’s real and what’s not there is no possibility of anything being real. It’s so clear that the things tormenting Sara are fake, so you never really start to wonder if she’s going crazy or not, you just know she is. Her story is also too much. It keeps trying to add on layer after layer after layer to give reasoning for why Sara and Jess would be susceptible to depression (and thus The Forest) when the reality is only one or two of those layers are needed. It also just keeps banging the audience over the head with it being “the suicide forest”. The movie just ends up adding too much, and drowns in it. Taking away multiple elements and scenes would still leave the movie overloaded and it would still end up drowning itself. It never has a chance to execute because it just tries too hard. Also again it’s boring.

I will say that Dormer does a solid job. Given the weakness of the script she doesn’t shine, but the fact that she also doesn’t do horrible in such a bad movie says something. I would love to see her in a movie that succeeds in the tension and suspense this film is attempting.

Bottomline:

Unless you are just very curious, skip this movie. It’s predictable, overworked, and not in the least bit scary.

Horror, Impressions

Impressions: The Witch

The Witch is an indie horror film written and directed by Robert Eggers. It calls itself a Folktale in the tagline, and attempts to separate itself from modern horror. It prides itself on historical accuracy, and the fears of the religious during the time it is set. It was well received by most critics, and we’ve finally had a chance to watch it and give our own impressions.

Story:

The story follows a family that is kicked out of their Puritan plantation. The father has been preaching and believe he knows the real word of the gospel, so they are expelled to live in the wilds. They build their farm and, at first have a fairly steady life. Thomasin, the eldest daughter, is asked to watch the baby Samuel and he disappears. Not long after the farm seems to be corrupted, and one by one the family is harassed and tormented. Thomasin receives the blame from the family, as they all turn on her, and each other.

Impressions:

This movie was praised as being so wonderful, especially in comparison to a lot of modern horror. I would agree with that statement, though feel it gets a major pass because what it’s stacked up against is not nearly as clever. In a world filled with gore porn The Witch actually attempts to be a smart, suspenseful, thriller/horror movie. This does by in large make it better than a lot of what you can see, it doesn’t however make it great. I know how negative that statement comes off, and I want to clarify that I do think the movie is rather good, just slightly overrated.

The isolation theme is well done. The family is actually completely alone, other than whatever is coming for them. The story itself is compelling. The family is falling apart and their religious beliefs are being tested, which at the time is really the worst thing that can happen to them. They all know something is wrong, but they don’t know exactly what it is.

Perhaps the most clever part of the film is the isolation that Thomasin feels. It takes very little for the entire family to turn on her, and once they do so it seems like their destruction is all but guaranteed. It deals with historical accuracy and chooses to build fear with heavy use of shadows and imagery rather than blood and guts. It does all of this well.

The problem is the movie suffers from bad pacing, and is extremely predictable. You know that whatever is going after them is using Thomasin as their scapegoat. One by one everyone is left alone with her, so when something happens to them there is no tension. Suspense I find is more important and impactful in horror films than jump scares, but it has to be done right. The Witch gets close at a number of moments, but is never really able to drive it home. You are left with something that is creepy, but it’s not really scary and shouldn’t it be? For me the test of a great horror film is how far it lingers, this movie did linger a little, but I would have liked more.

Bottomline:

The movie is good, and worth watching. The plot is interesting and it’s very well shot. It just fails to make a major impact which is something I really want from horror. It’s a good movie, but falls short of being a great horror film. I am curious to see what we will get from Robert Eggers in the future, this was his directorial debut and it was a rather good outing.

Horror, Impressions

Impressions: #horror

#horror was a video on demand movie, meaning much like The Veil, it didn’t have a major release but instead went straight to streaming services. It’s a new way a lot of studios/directors are choosing to handle horror so they can skip box office competition, and even push the limits. #horror does push the limits with a cast of mostly young girls, but was that enough to make it worth tuning into?

Story:

#horror follows a group of mean girls. Sam shows up at a sleepover, even though she doesn’t really fit in with the group. The girls are rather awful to each other, and obsessed with their own social media. After a round of rather mean bullying, Cat is asked to leave the house, and Georgie is sad because a mean picture of her will be out on the internet forever. Sam comes up with the great idea of locking up their phones, thus creating the situation in which the girls can’t call for help. Not long after the cellphones are locked up the girls get freaked out by Cat’s father and one by one start to go missing. Pictures of the girl’s murders show up on the internet as the survivors attempt to escape.

Impressions:

#horror has a fairly clever idea. Talking about the obsession with social media, and how awful the girls are to each other seems clever. The execution leaves a lot to be desired though. The movie becomes rather obsessed with it’s own point, to the extent that it seems to forget itself. The girls are awful, and completely unsympathetic. The focus is also so much on them that the adults suffer a great deal. In fact the extreme talented Chloe Sevigny has an almost painful performance it’s so stiff. The plot suffers because every time it gets rolling it needs to stop so the girls can once again remind us that we are too obsessed with our phones, and too mean to one another.

The movie also has the shock factor to it. The girls are hunted, and their death scenes are brutal and rather drawn out. Most major motion horror films tend to gloss over the killing on children. Even if included there is a fade to black or the camera pans away, this movie does not bother with that. Because it was VoD there was less dealing with the ratings board, and so the movie pushes the limits a bit with the death of the girls. I have said it before, and will say it again, shocking does not make a movie good, it just makes it shocking.

Bottomline:

I know I didn’t say much, but frankly there just isn’t much to say. The movie is not good. It is so obsessed with it’s own point it fails to be neither compelling nor entertaining. It depends entirely on being shocking and “having something to say”. So you are left with a dull film that fails to live up to what it was trying so hard to say. It can be skipped.

Horror, Impressions

Impressions: The Veil

The Veil is a horror movie that released January 2016. It had no theater release, but instead went straight to VOD and Netflix. Despite being a straight to “video” (for lack of a better term) movie, it has a solid cast, is not a low budget movie, and actually stands up to many theater horror films. It seems to be a film that challenges the idea that “straight to video” means bad.

Plot Summary:

In the 1980s Jim Jacobs founds a cult, with the specific goal of proving that death is not permanent, though no one outside the cult knew that was his goal. The cult site is raided, and it is discovered that all the members committed suicide, with only one young girl having survived. In the present the girl, Sarah, is contacted by film maker Maggie. Maggie wants to take Sarah back to the cult site in order to discover what happened, and why the members all killed themselves. When they get there, Sarah slowly uncovers her memories of Jim’s goal, while Maggie admits to be the daughter of one of the FBI agents that raided the site. As the two of them, and Maggie’s crew, search for answers they begin to experience paranormal activity, and are attacked.

Impressions:

The Veil suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It sets up a very compelling “cult leader, killer” plot line, but then jumps ship to a paranormal ghost story. It’s not that the ghost story is bad, nor is it that the cult story is. However neither really seem to connect correctly. Instead you are left with the feeling that the people working on the film attempted to combine two horror sub-genres, hoping to come up with something unique. That being said the plot is not horrible. It’s not the greatest story you will get in a horror movie, but it’s interesting enough to keep the viewer engaged.

Thomas Jane does an exceptional job, as the cult leader Jim Jacobs. He personifies the crazy, yet charismatic person we expect him to be. The background characters also do a good job, filling their roles, and doing the most with their limited screen time. Shockingly the probably top billed Jessica Alba and Lily Rabe are the worst of the group. It’s not that either of them do a poor job (they do not), but they have very little range. Sarah and Maggie both stay rather stiff and hollow throughout the entire movie, despite how much they are discovering, and how many horrible things happen. They are completely eclipsed by the rest of the cast, which is surprising and a little disappointing.

The filming could also use a little work. The movie was planned to be found footage, and I am glad they scrapped that idea. However the film lacks any interesting camera angles or shots. In replacement for those, there are fish-eye lenses, and strong use of filters. The grey filter over the entire film works well, it fits perfectly with the tone of the movie. However nothing makes up for the fact that the camera is pretty much set up in a straight on shot the entire movie. It suffers from a need to really work on the creative use of the camera.

All that being said it’s not a bad movie. While it’s hardly going to top my list for favorite horror films it has it’s moments. It focuses more on suspense and story than gore, which is welcome considering gore porn has kind of over taken horror. The story again has it’s missteps, but is interesting. The pacing is hit or miss, but is overall solid. The movie is good, not great, but good.

It also begs the question of what it means to be a “straight to video” movie in this day and age. It’s not the expected b flick that is cringe worthy, but funny. It’s a solid horror film that stands up to many that we’ve actually seen in theaters. I have to give it credit, movie sales are progressively getting worse meaning movies like this would suffer from a box office release. However it doesn’t take “straight to video” to mean “we can be lazy”. Despite knowing it would never be on the big screen, great care and effort was put into making this movie solid.

Bottomline:

I can’t say it’s good, but I can’t say it’s bad either. It was an interesting experience, and one I am ultimately glad I had. I have my complaints, specifically with the boring use of the camera, and the confused story. That being said it was an ok experience. It’s one I would recommend, just with the disclaimer of “you will not love it”. It certainly over comes the “straight to video” expectations that I had.