Dead Snow

By Special request for Stuart 🙂

http://youtu.be/lEQwEmeWnyI

The great thing about Dead Snow is that it follows the formula necessary for such productions and sticks to it. Possibly one of the most influential Nazi zombie snow movies ever made. You get the gist. When making a movie in a genre that has been hackneyed to death (sorry!) , as you may know,  there is a formula for these movies – an abandoned cottage , or dark basement/castle or some other deserted/creepy place. A handful of students ranging from the sporty to nerd, male and female – you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, in this case we got a group of Norwegian students, up in the mountains, miles away from civilisation and nothing there for them except their cabin. Plans all made for a busy weekend of “studying”. I’m not mentioning what happened in the outhouse, you’ll have to watch for yourselves.
The film was directed and written by Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, 2013) he also gave himself a cameo role as one of the dying zombies.  Our seven heroes are all settled when they have a night visitor, who has a simple warning for them “there’s an evil presence here”.  The first thing you notice when watching is that there’s not much of an original thought here, but it is done well. There’s even a reference to “Friday the 13th”. They learn of the Nazi past  and the missing soldiers believed to have frozen on the mountains. Not long after, we get introduced to our resurrecting zombies, disturbed by the students. In the course of this all the usual happens, they split up, one has to amputate his own arm and so on.
The ensuing zombie chase to kill our Norwegian friends provides us with all the glorious blood splattering, intestine spewing gore expected of such a movie. But it is done so well… There are a few directors  who have managed to perfect this sub-genre (zombie Horror movies), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead 1981) and George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) are the obvious examples.  Wirkola knew what  he wanted and went for it.
The plot is as it is – holidaying teenagers alone in a cabin discover an evil nasty (in this case Nazi Zombies) and then spend the best part of 90 minutes largely failing to escape them, indeed not only failing to escape but also perhaps failing to survive. There are of course some glaring plot holes, but these are made up for by the one of the students who actually knows his movie trivia and drops in the appropriate one liner when needed, a good  writing move.
It should be pointed out that these are no ordinary zombies, they are Nazi zombies and as such are a determined bunch (either that or hungry), chasing victims up trees (forcing the victim up the tree), of course in her case if she had not being wearing a bright red jacket in snow, or climbed up the only tree with a crow’s nest – the trouble with disturbing crows is that they make noise, al lot of it. Telling them to sush is not very productive or helpful when there is a zombie just below you. On the bright side, when falling off a cliff, their intestines are more than strong enough to catch and hold on to (take note in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation).
You will note that I’m not listing off the world famous Norwegian movie stars who played the hapless victims, being honest, they were fodder, for script and zombies. Some people have damned this movie as derivative and unoriginal, sure, but was it meant to be new and original? I will however credit Ørjan Gamst as Colonel Herzog (who will be in the sequel). This movie is not about Shakespearian monologues, or slow sweeping vistas Ang Lee would be proud of. No  the camera work is rationed, each second of screen time is there for a reason, ala Guilermo del Toro. I’m going to stop on this point right now. Well just adding that in fairness this movie was not done on a huge Hollywood budget, but managed to use its finances well and produce a well-crafted offering. Just because a movie is not big-budget doesn’t mean it has to look cheap and dated.
This movie works quite simply because it is a comedy, designed to put a smile on our faces and not take itself too seriously. That said I’ve developed serious bouts of the giggles at other horror flicks but often because they were so poorly produced, regardless of budget, they were always going to be bad. What makes this movie actually watchable is that it was technically made well, all things considered.
The plot is thinner than the ice they are on and like most things in the frozen Norwegian   mountains, needs time to warm up, but after about the first 15 minutes things get lively with the appearance of the zombie Nazis. Leave your brain in the bedroom, and just sit back and enjoy. Yes,  it is derivative; no,  it is not very original;  but maybe you’ll enjoy it.

There’s not much more you can say about students being chased around a deserted mountain by zombies. Just as Cabin Fever worked because of its satirical approach, this works because of a similar approach, but no so much satire as light-hearted homage to those movies which  went before it.
Three stars – a respectable score, especially given the starting point.

Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast , 2000), is not one of the world’s most prolific directors, but what he does produce is always noteworthy and of merit, even if it requires you to work with him. Under the Skin is such a movie. One of the first things to make itself obvious in the film is the use of light and colours, either the extreme whiteness (and also black) of her environment, an area without seems or borders, we see only light, or in the scenes of what we take as her lair, we see a dark void absent any obvious light source, or surfaces. The opening sequence takes us from the sterile bright white of an alien environment (or consciousness, we don’t know) to the dull, dreary urban motorway scenes of our aliens (we take the bike rider as being another alien) driving around mainly urban Scotland. While the picture painted by her travelling is not one of joy and happiness but rather a cold searching. The atmosphere, the scenery and even some of the people encountered along the way, are not the type that you would put on a “Visit Scotland” poster, they are real and ordinary with nothing much to sell them.

How long she is on the planet we don’t know, but she is able to drive a Transit van and communicate in flawless English (for what little dialogue there is in the movie). Scarlett Johansson (Her, 2013), play what is a challenging role brilliantly, her acting is visual, with little chance to add to scenes through dialogue. She seems “comfortable in her skin” or so to speak, yet she spends her days driving around looking for people who will not be noticed missing too quickly. As we see her driving it becomes obvious she’s is driving for a reason, she is hunting. Like a spider, she lures her victims to her, first chatting to them to get them in to her van and then into her “lair”. Her lair is a dark void, in the same sense of the white scenes were of a white void, with no obvious dimensions which swallows up her victims.

The film is almost silent, with any dialogue sparse and only as needed, at least 70% to 80% of the movie is non-dialogue. After the usual initial small talk we see her with her victims, back in the “eternal void” while we think we are used to the void, we see that there is more to it. Her mail victims never reach or connect with her, indeed as they approach her, they are subsumed into an liquid, best described as akin to embryonic fluid. She walks over it as if it is solid, it is only as her later that the realise that the liquid is a storage area, not visible from above, but from within. We are not told if this is her natural environment or some type of psychological analogue of what is happening. One thing you will notice is the cold emotionless performance by Johansson. We observe her from an emotional distance, we’re along for the ride, but not part of the experience. If you are looking for an action packed shoot-em-up, go look somewhere else, If you are looking for a lost Kubrick, then it will suit you perfectly. We are only allowed to observe this movie, always kept at a safe distance. As the movie progresses we get the feeling she is less familiar with her surroundings, or at least less comfortable, indeed the scene in the woods shows just how alien she is, literally and figuratively.

The dialogue, where it happens is clipped and pared back to the bare minimum, only used for what is needed. Indeed one of the movies pivotal parts is where here latest victim is descending in to the liquid and sees another older victim, now disfigured by his time in the liquid. Rather than recoil, the new victim makes his way to the other and without words they reach out and touch. The connection to the other, whoever they are is preferable to isolation.

One cannot help but wonder if the dark area and fluid, and even the bright white scene are her natural environment, the place where she is calm and safe, a place of isolation. Whereas out and about on Earth she is surrounded by dimensions, noises, colours, sounds and tastes etc. This environment is alien to her, just as her’s is to us. We also notice the difference in styles of person, the talking youths eager for her company, these are ordinary people, using ordinary lines, but still against her silence.

In some senses it reminds of (Upstream Colour (Carruth, 2013), the visuals are a significant part of the story, even surpassing the dialogue. We are also left to discover the movie as it progresses, working out the clues and interpretations as we move along. Aliens (in Earth based movies) generally fall into one of two categories, the big nasty evils one who want to destroy us, or the cute one, usually lost or homesick, Here we might have a mixture of both, or do we. We have a creature which looks like is will do no harm, but we know the skin she inhabits is not her own and like a spider, the males she beguiles are lured to her lair and trapped.

It is hinted by visuals that she is not alone and that there are other aliens, but this is never confirmed, such is the movie. This is not a movie to fill a wet Saturday evening, no you watch this only if you are willing to work at it and take in all it has to deliver.

This is a work which has been well assembled, superbly acted by Johansson with cinematography which not only compliments the acting but is a necessary part of the story, of the work. Not the easiest movie to watch, but not the worst by any measure, indeed it is one which rewards the effort.

Grabbers

Okay, as soon as I saw reference to this movie at the Galway Film Fleadh, I was hooked. This movie has been described as a B-movie comedy. “B-movie” does not mean bad, just that it does not have studio millions behind it. This is a comedy and as you probably know by now, I like my comedy to be properly constructed, following ancient rules, this movie does that, indeed following rules and convention is something director Jon Wright (Tormented, 2009) and newcomer to feature length work, writer Kevin Lehane do throughout the movie.

I’m going to get the obvious connections out of the way; Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990); this is very much in the same style but probably more funny.  It is probably more in line with Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) with the community feel to the ongoing story. I mentioned rules earlier and Wright seems to follow very closely some Irish rules of thumb when it comes to comedy. 1) an outside in the village, usually a slightly eccentric Englishman or German such as the character of the General (Sam Harris) in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) or Major Yates himself (Peter Bowles) in The Irish RM (1983). The Irish RM brings us to the second necessary character – the town drunk who also happens to be quite smart and more than capable of coming out well from any situation, we see this with the Character of Slipper, played by Niall Tobin is the series. Such a  character might be described (using the Hiberno-English vernacular) as a “cute whore” which is a cunning but good natured person.  Another movie which comes to mind is The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) given the sense of isolation.

Being so formulaic can often destroy a movie as the team concentrate on the formulae and not the heart and soul of the movie, here however they capture the comic essence needed, indeed the casting was perfect as soon as you saw the actors in a number of cases you knew what you were in for.

Headed by Richard Coyle (Going Postal 2010) playing Garda Ciarán O’Shea with Ruth Bradley (Love/Hate, 2011) playing the Garda sent in to support O’Shea while the sergeant is on vacation. The pair seem totally mismatched and polar opposites. As strange things begin to happen such as whales washing up on shore, they meet up with the English marine biologist working on the island, Dr. Adam Smith (Russell Tovey, Being Human, 2008) who brilliantly plays the reserved and very proper scientist trying to do things the right way. SO here is the village outside needed by the “rules”. The team deserve credit for knowing just how far to take a character such as Smith, stopping short of cliché.  Pretty soon people start to go missing and alien  creatures start to appear.

One is captured by the town drunk/small time fisherman and general smart-arse (again using the H-E vernacular) played brilliantly by Lalor Roddy (Game of Thrones, 2011). An experienced stage and screen actor he know exactly what was needed. I could continue with the rest of the support cast , but sufficient to say they were all first class. I should also give a mention to the excellent CGI, evidence of the work that can be done on a budget.

The plot, in short is; alien creatures crash in to the sea just off the island and quickly make their way ashore. Strange things start to happen and people begin disappearing. Eventually one of the octopus like alien creatures is captured and killed (possibly). This bring more trouble in the shape of the alien’s (far, far larger female partner). Ultimately our heroes and the rest of the village have to make a stand in the village pub (probably another rule there) for reasons most enjoyably left to the movie to explain. Here they battle to save the community, the island and of course all mankind. The battle tactics make the movie.

I’ve avoid reference to The Guard (John-Michael McDonagh, 2011) so far, so it is about time I did the inevitable. I enjoyed The Guard, I really enjoyed Grabbers. Wright has placed the McDonagh brothers on notice. In short this movie is Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-98) meets Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and as good as either of them.

A lesser effort would have been wholly predicable, this was not. This is The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) as a full comedy.

Rating 9/10, I look forward to more work from this team.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This is a movie which should have worked much better than it did. An historical fantasy horror, it had the right ingredients. With people like Rufus Sewell (Zen, Aurelio Zen, 2011) and Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Latif Yahia, 2011) they should have been well able to play off each other, but they were in a support cast so their influence would have been limited.  Added to this the director, Timur Bekmambetov  , who brought us those great Day Watch, (2006) and Night Watch (2004) movies.

Benjamin Walker, a relative unknown, (Flags of Our Fathers, Harlon Block, 2006) acquitted himself well and whether it was the relative inexperience or the character, he came across much as we would have expected of a characterization of Abraham Lincoln.  The story line follows a young Lincoln looking to revenge his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire, while trying to kill the particular vampire (not knowing he’s a vampire) he meets  Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who teaches him how to kill vampires and then sends him to Springfield which was seemingly a hotbed of vampires.  As the movie progresses it becomes clear that he needs to come up against Adam (Rufus Sewell) one of the oldest vampires (he tells us he is five thousand years old).

 

There follows a series of vampire hunting fights and struggles over the years until he eventually becomes President.  Here we see the vampiric legend superimposed on the historical timeline. Lincoln’s son who of course died in childhood is in the movie Killed by a vampire.   There are also implications for the war as Adam agrees to deploy vampires for the Confederacy, this of course is a potential game changer.

There is only one person (well three if we include his friends, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing, Kate Lloyd, 2011) and of course Mr. Sturgess…so that’s tree humans and a vampire.

They of course come up with a plan to save the world and in so doing so create the movies big dénouement.  This is probably where the movie was let down most, but in fast scenes, appropriate scene music and give our actors plenty of life threatening situations and you should have a good action sequence. Unfortunately everything was just too well scripted.  A kid can be thought how to work a mathematical problem to its end through the use of a formula.  A mathematician can take the same formula and create something new and exciting; Bekmambetov is a “mathematician” by any standards so I have no reason why this movie did not work.

There were a number of leaps of faith, at least one very poor continuity issue and some scenes which were just too contrived.  The use of mid 19th century sunglasses by all was actually a nice touch which could have been over done but was not.

Rating 4/10, this should have been a much better movie but I suspect something just did not work in the production.  This is not a bad film, it just did not engage me or bring me in to the story.

 

The Cabin in the Woods

Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written between Goddard and Joss Whedon the omens were good for CitW, a quick look at the cast list added to that.  I have to say I was sold on the movie only minutes in with Messrs Hadley (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, 1999-2006) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, 2007) indulging in a deep and meaningful discussion on baby-proofing the home and making plans for during the week, their weekend obviously busy so no woods for them. We get enough of an insight at this early stage to see there is an experiment underway, but just what type, we have yet to determine. With the happy-go-lucky wise cracking duo of Hadley and Sitterson, you just know they are nice people…or are they?

The scene then switches to college dorm land where we see our five heroes/victims preparing for their weekend in the woods. We see the group lead by the “Jock” of the group (Chris Hemsworth, Thor, 2011), who combine to make up the five stereo-type students which usually end up in deserted cabins waiting to be killed. They are off to a newly bought cabin owned by the cousin of one of our heroes. I won’t go into the characterisation here, it has been described as shallow, personally I would consider it adequate and at the level needed for the movie. After the initial introductions to us, the group fill up the camper van and start off to the cabin, it is at this stage that the first sinister clue is given, there is something afoot. Perhaps there is a link between the experiment and the weekend away…the rest of the story  needs you to watch the movie, no spoiler here.

What Goddard (Cloverfield 2008 writer) and Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1996-2003) bring is over a decade of working together, and it shows.  It is hard to be truly original in horror movies. There is the small group trapped in the woods always the “jock”, the “blond” and various supports to counterpoint. There are also the assorted things that can go wrong when alone in a deserted cabin in the middle of nowhere.  Where our writers succeed is that this is always just one part of the overall equation, never over powering it. What we have here is Cabin Fever (Eli Roth 2002), Dead Snow, (Tommy Wirkola, 2005) and Das Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegal 2001) and a lot of others all pushed into one production, but not in a manner which is simply a cheap plagiarism, more an homage to this work and indeed the horror  genre.

The characterisation is at the right level here, it carries the movie, not over-powers it. The horror aspect is not overly gruesome, but everything  that ever caused us to jump is there. The script is smart with the verbal and visual gags all working well.  I laughed where I was supposed to and laughed out loud.  This is a first class satire, Horror fans will enjoy it.

Rating = 9/10, nothing is perfect. It kept me entertained and I was happy to recommend it to friends.