The Witch (2015)

 

Robert Eggers’ (the Tell-Tale Heart, 2008) movie is set in the early 1600’s with a new England farming family, headed by the farmer husband and father (Ralph Ineson, Intruders, 2011), a man of strong religious views, are banished, for religious reasons from the community they live in.  Needing to build a new life for the family, they settle down a couple of days away from the town and build a new existence for themselves. Life is hard and the family is struggling to make an income in the harsh New England countryside.

As hard as life is, it still goes on. Each member of the family has their position and duties accordingly. And this is where the film works. The movie draws on the folklore of ththe-witche early New England settlers as they came to terms with the new land, the strange surroundings and the natural fears and superstitions of life at this time.

There is an under lying tension within the family, As the father and mother (Kate Dickie, Red Road 2006) struggle to make a success of their little farmstead, the children also have responsibilities and duties. It is to this background that things start to happen. The two oldest children are of an age where the tensions of hormonal changes are coming into play, most especially for the son, who is becoming aware of himself, so to speak. One day while taking care of the youngest child, the oldest, Thomasin, (Anya Taylor-Joy, Viking Quest, 2015) loses her, but only after taunting the middle daughter, Mercy (about witches and saying she was one). This of course leads to all sorts of implications. The Son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, Oranges and Sunshine, 2010, a person who could have a bright future ahead of him) is caught in the middle of this and goes to find his little sister, only to make things worse.

The days following the disappearance of the child are tense ones, made all the more tense by the otherwise mundane arguments and struggles of life, which are blown-up in the tensions of the struggles.  Eventually things are said and accusations are made, Did Thomasin do something to her little sister, did an animal take her or did the [ubiquitous] with in the woods take her?

As we are drawn in to this struggle, the tension mounts, but then we are introduced to a new element, the witch herself, it turns out there is a witch in the woods, who might actually have taken the child.

Over the next while the presence of the witch is hinted at and explored at first, but then takes a larger part of the story-line, especially with the use of the family mail goat as a familiar, who might actually be the devil.  The last act or so of the film is an old fashioned blood and gore horror segment which needless to say culminates in the great showdown. This final denouement  (and yes any denouement should be final…) is to me the lessor event.  As the tensions in the household mounts and events begin to take their toll, the children are taken over and possessed, with young Caleb especially affected. This scene is one of the better ones of the film.

Now, let’s be clear; this is not the great horror movie people seem to think it is. It could have been, a nerve wrenching thriller playing on the fears and dangers hidden in the dark corners and damp ground, or it could have been an old fashioned horror with our heroes fighting the evil monster etc. Instead it tried to do both and so ultimately failed to succeed to the level it wanted. The acting by the younger actors in particular in first class, even if the character of the mother seemed a little over the top (more the character than the acting).

This is a good film, scoring a safe 3 stars, it could have been much more, if it decided to go one way or the other. Personally I would have liked a movie where we never say the protagonist, but only the fears, reactions and struggles of the family.

The House on Pine Street

The House on Pine Street.

Directed by Aaron and Austin Keeling (more known for their short movies) An interesting idea which ultimately lets itself down by giving us too much and tool little at the same time, creating a movie which is a mixed bag of everything.  A young couple recovpinestreetering from issues which reveal themselves as the movie goes on, move in to a house in a sleepy Kansas sub-urban town.  Here immediately the film falls for its biggest weakness, cliché; as the couple is introduced to us arriving at the home, the host/estate agent is the type of mono-syllabic character Which makes Lurch (Adams Family 1964) seem carefree and reckless, as it turns out he was a red-herring, appearing nowhere else for the film.

We find out that Jennifer (Emily Goss) is 7 months pregnant and has agreed to move back to her home town with her partner while he takes a temporary job locally. Straight away the scene is being set as we see the house deliberately set to look suitably old and scary. Which is fine except, one room is perfect and nicely restored, while the hallway etc. has bubbling peeling paint.   Nothing much happens at first, then little things start to happen, but only as long as we the watcher sees them. As the house continues to make its presence felt, the stresses build up for Jennifer.  Stresses which are not helped by her over-bearing mother. It turns out her mother arranged the house and job, despite the two of them barely being on speaking terms.  As Jennifer is drawn deeper in to the horror of the house, the others (including some local friends of her mother) are more and more inclined to believe it is Jennifer, and not the house which is the issue.  It also does not help, that as her hate of the house and her surroundings grows, her husband (Taylor Bottles), is settling in to town and has accepted a full-time position.

This could have been an excellent movie, but there was nothing new in the offering, if the writers had decided not to actually show the entity, it might have been a better movie, as it would have kept the mental terror whole.  The tension between Jennifer and her mother (Cathy Barnett) is perhaps a little too much given the already occupied story-line. Somewhat cluttered in its presentation, leaving the viewer to try and catch-up a number of times, it could have tried to do its own thing.

The film builds to its ultimate end, not a million miles from expected and so not reaching too high an achievement. The Taking of Deboragh Logan (Adam Robitel, 2014) was a much better piece of work. Over all a familiar take of a familiar story, which could have been much more interesting.

Overall a “Middle of the road” 2.5/5 (I could not stretch to 3)

Spring

Written and directed by Justin Benson (resolution, 2012) , with additional co-direction by Aaron Moorhead (ditto), this is one of the more different movies you will view in a while. This is a film which reward you for sticking with it. It has been described by some as a little weird, I would npot go that far, but it certainly has echoes of HP Lovecraft.

The film revolves around Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci, Evil Dead, 2013) who is having a fairly depressing life back home in theUS. His mother has just died after a long illness and on top of that he has just lost his job as a chef in a bar as a result of a fight. Not knowing what to do withhimself and fearing arrest, he decides to leave and settles on Italy as a destination.

He quickly meets two other backpackers and falls in with them as they spend time around the Naples area. It is during one evening with them that he meets a mysterious woman, (Nadia Hilker München 7, 2013) who toys with his affections. Evan meanwhile decides to stay for a while as the other continue on their tour. He finds a place to stay with an equally enigmatic old farmer (Francesco Carnutti, The Order 2003)He eventually tracks down and wins over the hand of the woman in question.

As their relationship progresses, there are certain restrictions and mysteries. Just as we are putting the pieces together Benson throws us just enough to answer the immediate questions. The “love affair” element is not in and of itself sufficient to keep our interest, so the additional mysterious slant adds to the story. Without giving any plot lines away, there is an interesting twist to the woman’s secret which will impact on their future time together.

As the movie progresses, the focus becomes more on the future rather than the past or present and the dark secrets associated with both.

One drawback is the stereo-typical presentation of rural Italy, I watched this film with an Italian friend (by coincidence) and he was a little put out by this usual practice ( I had to point out how this is also done with regard to Irish based films, sadly)

As the end nears and the horror element shows itself the movie continues at the same pace, forcing us to investigate more, what is happening? The movie ends with a big question hanging over them both. Will somebody have to sacrifice a life? Just how much is love worth.

This is not the fastest movie in the world and you will not have to suffer too much bloody carnage, but you still find yourself being brought along by this original story. The direction is a little rough in places but over all a solid *** production.

Horns

I came to this movie with an open mind, having read mixed reviews. I can see now why they were mixed. In essence we are looking at two movies, the horror-comedy-thriller and the romance. Although fresh and original, there were moments when I felt the film was deliberately playing to an audience segment, probably the younger audience who wanted to watch Harry Potter.

There is also an element of the old morality play about the film. I’ve noticed that a number of Hollywood productions carefully throwing in a moral lesson for the younger audience members, something, I’m not overly in favour of, there is a difference between entertainment and learning.

Directed by Alexandra Aja (The Hills have Eyes, 2009) and based on the screenplay by Keith Bunin (In Treatment, 2009) and the novel by Joe Hill. Following the death of Ig Perrish’s (Daniel Radcliffe, what If, 2013)childhood sweet-heart, Merrin Williams (Juno Temple, The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) under mysterious circumstances. Mysterious circumstances which have him as the prime suspect in her death. Pretty soon he notices he is growing horns. And this is where the film takes its first twist. We learn that Ig’s horns actually come with a gift/curse people do not notice them unless looking at them and then have an urge to focus on anything else but them. Being in Ig’s proximity also causes those around him to reveal their darkest secrets and desires. Using this he works through, the night of the accident and his various friends, people he has been friends with since childhood.

His best friend Lee (Max Minghella, The Social Network, 2010) seems to be immune, he is also his defence lawyer as nobody in the town believes him, his closest friend in the town is his brother Terry (Joe Anderson, The Grey, 2011) who he thought he could rely on, but there may be an issue. His parents are not much help and the horns allow him to hear so home-truths which don’t help him much. Indeed the relationship he has with Merrin’s father (David Morse, The Green Mile, 1999) is a far more honest one which despite what is happening actually develops.

The childhood relationship shared by the main protagonists helps us get a feeling of who and what is involved pacing the movie just one step ahead of us, not far enough to lose us, but not sufficiently far away to have us suffering from the suspense.

The horror elements come to the fore as the movie progresses, one of the things which make the horror element work is the non-use of stylised cinematography, the seeming normality of it. There are some specific comedy plot devices but it does not take from the presentation. The Role of Eric Hannity (Michael Adamthwaite, Sucker Punch, 2011) gives us both background to the childhood but also how it plays out in adult life as Eric is also the local sheriff, under the spell of the horns, Eric reveals certain facts about himself which play to the movie. His own parents Derrick (James Remar, Dexter , 2006) and Lydia (Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon, 1997) are no support to say the least, his father cannot relate to him and although trying to help may be doing more harm than good, while his mother is painfully honest with him.

Well worth watching, in only falls slightly in the extended “romantic” memories – fine we get the message, move on…David Morse, by the way, is notable for his understated approach, working well against his more usual type.

6/10 worth watching even if possibly aimed at the teen/twenties market. Who is telling the truth? Sometimes what we think of as a curse may be a blessing…

What We Do In the Shadows

Once more the folks from New Zealand have managed to provide anotherclassic and as with much of the output from New Zealand, there is a calm “home-grown” feel to the work. Mocumentary films have generally left me feeling unsatisfied whilst the Point of View or “discovered lost footage type films also generally do very little for me; although As Above As Below (2014) was a notable exception. Often these films try to be too earnest or try to achieve too much on too small a budget to disastrous effects.

What we have here is a perfect example of knowing what you can do and making it work. As the film starts we are introduced to the cast of characters through Viago (Taika Waititi, The Green Lantern, 2011) a 350 year old vampire who, we learn, came to New Zealand in search of the love of his “life” after she moved there. The fact that his servant put the wrong postage on the coffin meant that it took him 18months to reach there, by which time she had fallen for another. Such are the stories which brought Viago and his flat-mates to where they are. We have Anton (Rhys Darby, MIB 3, 2012) and Vladislav, (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) the lothario or the group, but we learn his powers have been seriously weakened by his crossing paths with “The Beast” and Petyr (30 Days of Night, Heron, 2007) who is the oldest vampire and resembles the classical “Nosferatu” given to us by Max Schrek ( Nosferatu, 1922). Deacon (Jonathan Brugh The Almighty Johnsons, Mascot man, 2011) the youngest and most rebellious of the group, he has serious issues about doing the washing-up.

Together, they make up a “normal” group of flatmates who are basically trying to get on with life (or death) as normally as possible. We see the flatmates through various stereotypes ; organised & controlled, sloppy , “divil may care” etc. The plot as such is that of a camera crew following the guys in the weeks leading up to the Un-holy Masquerade Ball. This film should not be funny because many of the standard vampire gags which you might expect are all there and in many cases are well sign-posted. But for those that are sign-posted there are many other gags which also work just as well which are fresh to the production. We see the guys go about their lives and join them on their night’s out and feeding habits. Their feeding is facilitated by Jackie (Jackie van Beek, Shortland Street , 1999), Vladislav’s human Familiar who through her not very competent efforts finds them two not very virginal virgins to feed on, they subsequently end up turning Nic (Cori Conzalez-Macuer (Eagle v shark, 2007) in to a vampire, much to Jackie’s disgust as she has been wanting to be turned for quite some time. Nic has a friend Stu who he invites over to meet the guys and against their better judgement the they strike up a friendship with Stu who heads out with them on their nights’ socialising.

Such is the friendship that he is invited to the Ball by the guys, the fact that he is alive does not go down well with a number of the guests, including “The Beast”. A subsequent run-in with some of the local werewolves provides for a minor comic twist near the end, capping out the story.

The movie works for a number of reasons, the script is sharp and flows well with some quit finny lines spread through-out. Dealing with a subject matter of vampires one might expect hugely expensive visual effects or indeed attempts that are so pitifully awful they make us cringe. Not having the budget for the former and too much class for the latter Clement and Waititi who both directed the film struck the right note. The special effects are kept to a level which does not over-extend their abilities while at the same time restricting them for best comedic effect.

This is not an overly long movie, which moves quickly while bringing you with them all along the way. The jokes follow the situations with some excellent delivery. **** movie.

They Came Back (Les Revenants, The Returned) 2004

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.

It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.

What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.

With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.

Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?

This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.

This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works)  rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept.   It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.

If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.

Housebound

Ah, yes, you can always trust the New Zealanders to do the right thing. Housebound is one of those rare events; a comedy horror movie which actually delivers on all fronts. We start off at a bank, where our star Kylie and her boyfriend are failing miserably to rob an ATM. The court later sentences her to 8 months home detention. And so she arrives home to her Mother’s house far out from her city life. As it happens the security guard, Amos, (Glen-Paul Waruto) monitor her is a local, something that proves useful.   As she begins to settle in, or not settle in she also has to talk with Denis, her court appointed counsellor , yet another annoyance.   One of her biggest annoyances is her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, Sons and Daughters, 1982) Miriam runs an ordered house along with her second husband, Graeme (Ross Harper, The devil Dared me to, 2007) and both “lazy” daughter and “uptight “ mother are having to come to terms with each other.

In to this mix is her mother’s belief that the house is haunted, she accepts this as a fact and is not too bothered by it, by standards. Kylie is having none of this nonsense, or at least nothing until she notices some strange sounds and happenings. Through the usual disasters Amos is brought in and together they eventually go ghost hunting.

What they find is a mystery which might involve a young girl who died many years ago when the house was a care-home, maybe she is the disturbance, or is it the strange boy/man who used to live next door, the same boy nobody has seen for over 10 years.

Kylie is now convinced there is something in the house, there is, and on one particular night when Denis and her doctor are present, there is an attack, Denis is injured and taken away to hospital.

Kylie and Amos try to find out what happened, as they do the mystery deepens – but here is the important part, never overly darkens.

This is not a big movie with a huge story line, loads of sets and special effects, no it is a simple ghost story type movie told well and with a sense of humour. The sense of humour is important, it is excellently carried through without changing the essential nature of the movie or taking away from the suspense.

I’m deliberately not giving too much away. The cast is typically understated and calm as is with many of the ANZAC offerings, the suspense works and the story never gives too much away before it needs to. You will sit down and enjoy this film. It is good old-fashioned fun, with perhaps a subtle message about appreciating what we have and not rushing to judgement.

7/10 purely because it kept me entertained without having to get too bloody or too silly.