Tag Archives: thriller

VIFF 2014 Review: Housebound

Housebound is a thriller-comedy from New Zealand that's way better than what you can get from Hollywood.

Housebound is a thriller-comedy from New Zealand that’s put together way better than anything you can get from Hollywood.

Housebound was another one of those 11:30-at-the-Rio films I wanted to check out. It was my first of such. Glad I saw it. Very funny and entertaining.

Kylie Bucknell attempts to commit a robbery on an ATM. The robbery doesn’t work out as her partner is knocked out and she totals her getaway car thanks to driving fast over a big speed bump. The judicial system decides the best thing for her would be house arrest at her mother Miriam’s house. It seems like the right choice to do but the house is old and leaves Kylie with an eerie feeling.

Kylie’s feelings are justified when she hears Miriam call into a radio show talking of how weird it is around there. Then Kylie gets a taste of the eeriness as she notices things like an animated stuffed toy suddenly coming to life and even an old Motorola phone ringing out of nowhere. Even a dental partial has her suspicious. Kylie tries to alert authorities and others but they won’t believe her. Guests and other neighbors around the house are actually pleased at the possibility of a ghost.

Nevertheless Kylie and Miriam are persistent. The only one who believes her is Officer Grayson who knows of past incidents associated with this house such as this being a halfway house for young offenders. In fact the first person who’s the prime suspect in all of this is their shady neighbor. Despite his nasty attitude, he doesn’t register as a positive. However things become more suspicious when a friend of Miriam’s appears suspicious. Eventually the murderer is solved but not without an eerie chase.

For a horror-comedy like that to fly, it had to be done with the right acting, the right direction, and the right story. There have been horror-comedies done before but they would mostly come across as looking ridiculous in the end. Even Hollywood can get it wrong sometimes. This film got it right. From the start with a clumsy robbery attempt to the sense of something wrong in the house to the moment of climax at the end, it was done right. Even the parts intended to be dramatic didn’t come across as ridiculous nor did it dip into sentimentality that was too sappy. Looking back, it would be hard for me to see where the movie did things wrong. Even in terms of the gore, the film didn’t overdo it and it did its most gory part at the right time.

I will admit there were some parts that left me confused about what was happening. However they’d make sense in the end. Simply this is a movie that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Its intent was to deliver a humorous thriller/horror story and it came across as way better than something Hollywood would do. It even had excellent balance between the dramatic parts and the humorous parts. If it didn’t, it would look ridiculous. I would have to watch over and over again to see if it made a false note. Even the death of the perpetrator didn’t come across as ridiculous despite it actually being a ridiculous death.

The comedic acting was just right in order to make this movie work. Morgana O’Reilly needed to deliver a protagonist character that had dimension despite having one that could come across as wooden. Instead she did a good job with Kylie and it came across very well. Rime Te Wiata was the show-stealer as the mother. Her role as the mother added to the comedy to the film thanks to the excellence of the performance. The male actors also did a good job in their roles despite being the supporting players. This is Gerard Johnstone’s first feature -length film and it’s an excellent finished product. Very entertaining and very professional. Another great thing about the script is that it didn’t deliver an awful lot of one-liners and instead delivered more on situational comedy. That worked for the better in this movie.

Housebound is an excellent horror-comedy that both keeps you intrigued and makes you laugh without having ridiculous moments like so many other horror-comedies are prone to do.

VIFF 2013 Review: Antisocial

Antisocial is a Canadian-made bloody gory teen horror thriller that's very impressively made.

Antisocial is a Canadian-made bloody gory teen horror thriller that’s surprisingly high quality and entertaining.

I’ll admit that I didn’t see as many Canadian films as I hoped to see at the VIFF. Antisocial was one I did see. It was the very last movie of the official Film Festival shown: starting at 11:30pm at the Rio Theatre. It proved to be an ambitious work from Canadians at moviemaking, particularily at horror filmmaking.

The movie begins with an introduction of two girls filming what appears to be a simple video about clothing only for it be one torturing the other and killing her. Later on New Years Eve a college girl named Sam interacts with her boyfriend through a social website called The Social Redroom. It goes bad as he breaks up with her. That leads her to delete her account.

She tries to party it up with her friends to help try to forget the problem. Four of her five friends have active accounts with The Social Redroom. Unknown to them is that an epidemic is spreading outside of them out on just as they’re about to party. The epidemic gets worse and reporters show how this is affecting the world. They even trace it back to The Social Redroom. The founder of The Social Redroom even makes a video of his own warning people of a deadly tumor transmitted to its users. Then Sam and her friends get their first notice when one of their outside friends is a monster infected by this virus. The virus soon spreads throughout the campus. Those of the friends with accounts to The Social Redroom are most at risk. Now the infected are coming after their blood.

There is a way to rid one of this virus but it’s to come out of their bodies. So it’s up to Sam and her friends to try to protect each other. They try to look for everything. First the video of the original two girls to trace its origins. Then the warning video of The Social Redroom founder, in which he commits suicide. Then finding information to rid the tumor being transmitted via The Social Redroom. Then Sam to defend herself and then rid herself of the virus.

I don’t think the filmmakers intended on giving a negative message about social media sites. Anyone who sees this knows that The Social Redroom is a Facebook-like site. In fact looking at this movie, I feel it’s more of just an attempt at trying to make a teen horror movie. That’s it: nothing more than a teen horror movie meant to scare them for their entertainment pleasure. I will have to say this is a very good effort at putting one together. It features many ingredients that would make for your typical entertaining horror movie. There’s the paranormal, the action happening at a college dorm, and the all-too-common phenomenon of social media and giving everyone all the details. The visual effects, horror make-up and even the climactic moments of horror didn’t come across as too cheesy or amateurish. Even the ending didn’t look bad. It ended on the right ridiculous note. The musical score was also a good addition to the horror story as well.

I will admit that it doesn’t have the big-star fuel that Hollywood teen movies have nor does it have the mass marketing given from Hollywood to make it excel at the box office. Oh yeah, it also lacks the shirtless scenes of guys that have been standard ever since the Twilight movies. Nevertheless this is a very entertaining movie that was put together very well and very professionally. I had a hard time trying to find a moment that was very amateurish. I even found it hard to notice a moment from one of the actors that lacked believability. Michelle Mylett was good in what is her first acting role. Also good is Cody Calahan in his first ever direction of a feature-length film as well as co-writing with more experienced writer Chad Archibald. I felt it was kind of like The Ring mixed with 28 Days Later with Night Of The Living Dead mixed in.

Okay I’m sure a lot of you are wondering: “What’s a film like this doing in a Film Festival? Film festival films are supposed to take the art of filmmaking to new lengths.” True but not 100% true. The Vancouver Film Festival is an event that showcases filmmaking quality from around the world including Canada but it’s also an opportunity to have films for further distribution. Some films will go on to the big screen for bigger and better things. Some will find their way on DVD, Digital Movie Websites or movie television networks. And then there are some where the VIFF will be the furthest it gets. Antisocial made its debut at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. It continues to make appearances at various film festivals. Good buzz for it can help it get picked up for further distribution. We should remember few English language Canadian-made movies make it to the big screen. Nevertheless I see good potential for this film. We’ll have to see.

Antisocial is a teen horror thriller that lacks the star-studded buzz but is excellently put together and goes beyond its modest expectations. All it needs is more film fest buzz to develop a crowd to give it a fair chance.

VIFF 2013 Review: Big Bad Wolves

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DISCLAIMER: The 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival officially ended on Friday. Nevertheless I will continue to post reviews of films associated with it including repeat screenings shown within one week after the festival’s end.

Big Bad Wolves is one of those films at the VIFF that’s more movie than film. It’s Israel’s attempt at creating a thriller movie. How good is it?
The movie starts with a young girl going missing. The police first question Dror: a physically awkward religion teacher. He is accidentally released due to a police bungle. This upsets officer Miki and he decides to take things into his own hands. He hires men to beat up Dror into confessing but it doesn’t work. Unknown at the time is a teenager caught it on his camera phone. Within days the girl is found dead and beheaded. It is learned that the killer had the victim eat a cake full of sedatives before murdering her. Dror has become defamed at his teaching job and his ex-wife won’t even let him see his daughter. Meanwhile another girl is found killed and beheaded. She too was set up with the drugged-up cake. And word has come of the beating video appearing on YouTube. This leads Miki getting fired.
The firing doesn’t stop Miki from taking things into his own hands and getting to the bottom of this. He attempts to corner Dror and hopefully torture him into a confession. However Gidi, the father of the latest victim, also wants Dror to confess for his sake. Gidi and Miki first appear to form an alliance for getting Dror to confess only for things to turn ugly as Miki ends up attacked by Gidi too.
Gidi then takes Dror and Miki to the basement of his house. Miki is handcuffed to a pipe while Dror is strapped to a chair. Gidi attempts to be the one to get a confession out of Dror by torture. But no matter how hard he tries, Dror still maintains his innocence, even after Gidi rips off his toenails or disjoints his fingers. Gidi even has a cake full of sedatives ready. However just as he’s about to get Dror, interruptions occur like a phone call from his mother and a visit from his father Yoram. Things become surprising when Yoram joins with Gidi in the torture. Meanwhile Miki plans a getaway after one act from Yoram backfires and Dror gives an alleged burial location of the girls’ heads. Things have a twist of surprises that has the movie ending on a surprising note but a note that works with the story.
I don’t think the movie is trying to give a social message. I believe the movie is trying to play out a story while giving some comedic ironies at times. Like when the phone rings just as Gidi is about to torture Dror or the visit from his father or Yoram eating the sedative-loaded cake in front of Dror. It kind of gives the movie a bit of a dark humor like Fargo or even a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s interesting that when you first see the movie, you’d think it would be a strictly serous drama but the humor added to the moment and to the surprises. The movie’s other great quality is it’s also full of surprises. There are a lot of unpredictable moments. Like who would have thought that Yoram the father would participate with Gidi in revenge? Or even Miki would receive the shocking news of his own? Also for those that saw the movie, did you really think it would end that way? I didn’t.
I’m not too familiar with the Israeli film scene or the entertainment business but I think this film is a positive move for them to create movies. As you know there’s a big difference between movies and films. Films are works of effort and creativity. Movies have ingredients to draw crowds. I’m sure anyone who likes suspense movies will find this to be a movie that will keep them intrigued in what happens next and what will happen in the end. There may be some that would think the basement torture scene went too long but some thought the intensity of that long scene was just right. I myself am appreciative of the story that was being drawn out. I may question the ending whether it should have ended that way but otherwise a very good story that had me thrilled and even laughing at times. I’m sure Hollywood will pay attention to something like this.
Surprisingly this is only the second work in both writing and directing for the duo of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. You’d figure with an effort as professional and polished as this, they would have been veteran writers and directors. I am very impressed. It was an excellent script and excellent directing work. However there are times I’ve questioned whether the basement scene should have been that long.
There were a lot of great performances but I think the best performance came from Rotem Keinan. His portrayal as the victim Dror was very dead-on in terms of emotions and physical acting. He will often win your sympathy and have you believe he is an innocent man. Tzahi Grad was also very good as Gidi especially in making his role alternate between the dramatic and the comedic. Lior Ashkenazi was also very good but I think his part of Miki could have been more. Doval’e Glickman however came across as too cartoonish. The editing was very professional as well as the addition of the score in the movie. So overall I’m very impressed with how well-done this Israeli movie is. Sometimes I think it looks like something Hollywood would send out.
Big Bad Wolves is a very good thriller movie that will keep the viewer at the edge of their seat. It’s also an excellent effort from the Israeli film industry in movie making. I can see this as a crowd winner.

Move Review: Super 8

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know I’m behind in my writing and my movie reviewing. This has been a summer where I’ve tried to relax as possible so please excuse while I play catch-up here.

It’s the summer: the time when Hollywood producers, directors and film companies compete for the #1 grossing movie and the top moneymaking film company. It’s always at the box office where they decide the tried-and-true from the tried-and-tired. Despite the intense competition, there’s always a movie that comes with modest expectations that surprises everyone and steals their attention in the end. Super 8 is a movie that came with no top billed cast, Steven Spielberg acting only as a producer, and directed by little-known J.J. Abrams. Nevertheless it surprised everyone who saw it and gave them more than their money’s worth.

The movie starts as Joe Lamb’s mother had died on the job at the steel mill in an Ohio town. His father, the town deputy, is not taking it that well and even arrests Louis Dainard, the town bad apple. Four months later, school’s out. Joe’s father wants to send him off to a baseball camp in Pennsylvania but Joe’s more interested in making a zombie movie with his friends. This is a film director Charles Kaznyk wants to make to win a Super 8 film competition. He convinces Alice Dainard, Louis’ daughter, to play the protagonist’s wife in the movie. Alice steals her father’s car and takes the group to a train station to film the scene. During the shoot, a train passes by which the crew hopes will add more to the story. During the passing, Joe notices a truck driving towards the train, colliding, and derailing the whole train. In the aftermath, the kids come across a lot of explosions from the train cars and unique white cubes amongst the debris. They also find out the man who hit the train was their biology teacher Mr. Woodward who instructs them never to talk of what they saw or they and their parents will be killed. Just before the children flee, they learn that the Super 8 camera was untouched during the crash. Later the U.S. Air Force arrives to take over the crash scene.

Over the next two days, strange paranormal phenomena occur like people and dogs disappearing, power lines vanishing, missing electronics and even a gas station destroyed by something unknown. Woodward, recovering from the accident, refuses to answer the Air Force any questions and he is poisoned by a soldier. The Air Force has complete control of the town and its people, even deliberately starting a wildfire to evacuate the whole town. The town relies on Joe’s father to assure them of their security and answer their questions.

In the meantime the kids try to use some of the events as catharsis for Charles’ film, including using one evacuation scene for shooting. They also try to look for clues to this whole mystery. The first clue comes in the developed film used at the train station shoot. They notice something bizarre, like bugs. Later after Alice is amongst the missing, they break into their school and search for any of Mr. Woodward’s items that may have clues to this creature. What they find is a film and audio recordings about a creature that crashed to Earth in 1958. The alien only wanted to rebuild its ship but the Force tortured and imprisoned it to take its technology. One film even showed Woodward attacked by the alien only to form a bond. Woodward crashed into the train to free the alien.

The Air Force capture the boys and place them on an Air Force bus heading back to the base only to be attacked by the alien. The alien kills the men from the Air Force bus with allows Joe and the boys to escape and return back to the town. The boys return to town which is under heavy fire from the malfunctioning military equipment. They find a subterranean lair near the cemetery where Joe’s mother is buried. They come across many missing people still alive, including Alice, in which the alien was planning to have for food. They also learn the town’s electronics are underneath the base of the water tower formed together in which the alien is hoping to build a machine to return him back to his planet. Joe rescues Alice but in the escape, Joe is caught by the alien. Joe tells the alien that he can still live on after the painful events. The alien understands him telepathically and allows Joe and his friends to escape.

Soon after, all the loose metal, including the cubes that break free from the Air Force transport truck, are attracted to the town’s water tower. The cubes align and a ship forms allowing the alien to enter and finally leave earth. During the end credits, we see the film in which Charles, Joe and his friends created. A fun zombie movie filled with simple effects and gory make-up.

The movie is not just about an alien breaking free from the Air Force captivity. It also has a lot of human elements and themes. One theme featured is about parent-child relations. The town sees Deputy Lamb as a hero but Joe sees him as someone who has alienated him ever since his mother’s death. Alice Dainard thinks her father’s a monster. Things turn for the worse as she befriends Joe and her father forbids him. Another theme is about trying to heal from the past. Deputy Lamb blames Louis Dainard for his wife’s death since he didn’t show up for his shift that day. Joe also keeps the locket of him as a baby in which his mother wore until her death. Another theme is about the growing pains of adolescence. Charles hoped using Alice in his film would attract her to him. Instead she develops a bond with Joe. That puts a hot spot in the friendship between Joe and Charles with Charles feeling like the misfit again because he’s overweight. This was one sci-fi film that had a lot of depth in its script that worked well with the movie.

One of the best things about this movie is that it will remind many people of Steven Spielberg’s thrillers of the past. I’m sure most of you have a favorite one: Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Poltergeist, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Gremlins, The Goonies. They captured people’s imaginations and dazzled viewers looking for an escapist thrill. Here in Super 8, we can see a lot of the Spielberg magic captured with the storyline, the special effects and the thrilling sequence of events. That’s what makes for a winning story. Many people can already see many hints of Spielberg’s past movie’s in Super 8. I’m sure if you see it or have seen it, you might too.

The best thing about the movie has to be the lack of star-billing in this movie. Here the main characters are the children. The adults are in minor roles. They are all great individually but its their unselfish performances together where the acting shines best as a whole. J.J. Abrams’ direction is also excellent. He was very good at taking the story he wrote and turning it into a thrilling movie that is as generous with its storyline as it is with its thrilling effects. With Spielberg acting as producer, I’m sure that J.J. Abrams could rightfully label himself the heir apparent to Spielberg. The visual effects definitely could pass as some of the best of the year. The mix of music with 70’s hits and the original score of Michael Giacchino was also excellent. Overall this was an excellent movie.

In terms of its business, Super 8 cost surprisingly over $50 million to make and even had a video game released with it. As of now, the film has grossed $125 million in North America and just over $200 million worldwide; not enough to rank it even in the annual Top 10 list of highest grossing movies. I really enjoyed it. I feel sorry for those who missed out on it. It’s also surprising to see that something like this about an alien invasion of such would draw and captivate moviegoers in the late 70’s but doesn’t seem to do so now.

Super 8 is an excellent summer movie that the viewer would expect little of but would leave the theatre amazed. This definitely has to be one of the best summer movies you could see. It may not look like your type of movie but if you give it a chance, you might be surprised.