DVD Round-Up: 10/28/2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (10/1/2014)

10-1-2014OnlyLoversLeftAlive

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is about a pair of intellectual artists who are so culturally astute that they find themselves isolated from society and harboring beliefs that most humans are “zombies” who don’t truly appreciate art and are destructive to the world and to the environment. That’s right; this is a movie about hipsters… who also happen to be vampires. Indeed this is one of the humanized look at vampirism you’re likely to come across. Its characters are not monsters, they get their blood supply from hospitals and mostly keep to themselves. The movie probably wouldn’t be all that different if these characters had been mere immortals rather than vampires, but it does have fun finding examples of what life would be like for a pair of chilled out vampires living in a modern world. Indeed, this isn’t really a horror movie at all, like most of Jim Jarmusch’s films it mostly consists of a series of conversations without a whole lot of narrative backbone behind it all. It does a very good job of establishing these two characters and painting a portrait of what a couple of days in their lives would be like, but it doesn’t really give us a whole lot of a reason why we’re following them over the course of these specific nights. I think we’re supposed to be left with a feeling like this night was something of a turning point for the two leads, but I feel like the film could have done more to back that up. So, as is the case with a lot of Jarmusch’s movies, I’m left thinking there was a very good idea here that the director was a little too relaxed about to fully exploit.

*** out of four

The Sacrament (10/14/2014)

One of the few promising up-and-comers in the horror world is Ti West, whose films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers have both generated significant buzz amongst genre aficionados while also getting some kudos within the general indie scene.  If his style is characterized by anything it’s patience.  His films are slow burns that build up to moments of intensity and they don’t feel obligated to fill themselves with little scares during the early scenes where the story is being set up.  His latest film is about three reporters (AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, and Kentucker Audley) who work for Vice (yes, that Vice) who have gone to a strange enclave called Eden Parish looking to document one of the reporter’s reunion with his sister (Amy Seimetz).  The enclave is located in an unnamed foreign country and is filled with disaffected Americans who have decided to leave their old lives behind at the insistence of their leader, an enigmatic man who calls himself father (Gene Jones).  Increasingly, this enclave begins to seem less like an innocent hippie commune and more like a Jonestown like cult.

In fact, calling this cult “Jonestown like” is perhaps misleading, because it’s more than “Jonestown like,” it’s almost exactly like Jonestown.  The story more or less follows the actual story of what happened to Jonestown beat for beat.  I was maybe expecting there to be some added twist, but no, all that’s really been changed is the era, the details of who are in the party documenting its last days, and a few other details here or there.  In this sense there wasn’t really much of a sense of surprise to the film, but Jonestown is one of the more disturbing stories of the 20th Century so a straightforward (if fictionalized) retelling of what happened there is not entirely unwelcomed.  The film uses a found-footage format, perhaps to its detriment.  It occasionally dips into the End of Watch sin of breaking its format here and there.  There are definitely some shots towards the end that don’t appear to have been filmed by any discernable character.  So the film isn’t flawless, but I still mostly liked it.  The performances are by and large quite good in that authentic found footage Youtube kind of way and some of the images towards the end do retain some real power and suspense.  It’s not Ti West’s most ambitious or elegant work, but it’s probably his most watchable, and it’s also probably one of the better horror movies of 2014.

*** out of Four

10-14-2014TheSacrament

Oculus (10/17/2014)

10-17-2014Oculus The trailers for Oculus do not look promising, and neither does its premise.  I mean, what doesn’t sound lame about a movie about an evil mirror?  I wouldn’t go so far as to call the film a hidden gem or anything, but I’m happy to report that the film actually is decidedly better than it looks.  The film is ab out a mirror that is, for unspecified reasons, able to twist the perceptions of the people who are near it and drive them to kill themselves and others.  Ten years before the start of the film it did exactly that to the parents of our two protagonists, a brother and a sister who had to witness that haunting and are scarred by it.  As the film starts, the brother has just been released from a mental institution and soon afterwards the sister contacts him and tells him that she’s tracked down the mirror and is planning to expose its supernatural powers and then destroy it and most of the film cuts between what happens that evening and flashbacks of what went down when their parents were consumed by the mirror.

The film’s flashback structure is a big part of what differentiates it from many of the other haunted house movies that have been in vogue as of late, but it’s also kind of problematic.  At times the film seems to cut between the two stories really frequently and that sometimes robs the film of some of the tension that’s being built on both sides.  Beyond that, I kind of felt that some of the “rules” of how this mirror was supposed to do things were never quite clarified as well as they could have and the logic of how the characters behave sometimes is a bit off.  With those caveats out of the way, I actually quite liked the movie.  Karen Gillan does a great job of portraying her character’s obsession and her need for revenge while still making her seem like a realistic and likable person.  Brenton Thwaites is a bit less effective as the brother, but he’s alright.  The scares in the movie are not necessarily unique, but they don’t feel quite as clichéd as the ones in something like The Conjuring.  So, it’s not world changing at all, but if you’re looking for a modern horror movie to spice up your evening this will probably serve you pretty well.

*** out of Four

Willow Creek (10/23/2014)

For whatever reason comedy directors have been developing quite the interest in becoming horror directors as of late.  Kevin Smith has been trying to make the transition into horror, a lot of the mumblecore guys seem to be trying to make horror films, and now Bobcat Goldthwait has dipped his toe into the genre and from what I’ve seen I hope he never does again.  This movie is pointless.  It’s a found footage movie in the woods so bereft of content that it makes The Blair Witch Project look like a non-stop thrill ride of activity.  I’m sure that what was going through Goldthwait’s mind when he made it was that old adage “it’s what you don’t see that’s most frightening,” and that adage may be true but this is not how you fucking do it.  Making people afraid of offscreen horrors takes incredible skill and craftsmanship and Goldthwait clearly has neither of these things.  There’s a scene in this movie where the two highly uninteresting protagonists are just sitting in a tent for at least fifteen minutes hearing lame sound effects.  After eighty minutes of this amateurish nonsense there’s absolutely no payoff whatsoever.  Filmmakers, take another look at Jaws.  Yes it spends a lot of time not showing the shark, but guess what, in the last fifteen minutes they do give the audience what they expected: a big fucking shark eating people. Ugh.

1/2 out of Four

10-23-2014WillowCreek

Witching & Bitching (10/28/2014)

10-28-2014Witching&Bitching Witching & Bitching is a Spanish horror/comedy (emphasis on comedy) from director Álex de la Iglesia. The film somewhat resembles Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk Til’ Dawn in that it begins as a sort of crime comedy about a group of criminals on the run only to have these criminals stumble upon a supernatural evil. The difference is that the transition between crime movie and horror movie is a bit less sudden and also the film has a generally lighter tone throughout and perhaps more closely resembles the tone of something like Shawn of the Dead. The film also has a sort of “battle of the sexes” undercurrent in that all of the thieves on the run resent the women in their lives and there’s a certain irony in the fact that they find themselves face to face with a coven of man hating witches. The humor here is a bit scattershot. The actors do seem to have a good rapport and De La Iglesia does a good job of setting a good tempo for the movie, but some of the jokes get pretty lowbrow and the ending gets a little too crazy for its own good. Once a giant CGI creature got involved the movie really started to lose me, but I still thought it was a pretty enjoyable ride for the most part and parts of it were highly entertaining.

*** out of Four 

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