Movie review: The Reaping (2007)

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Starring: Hillary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba

Synopsis: A grieving widow and mother debunks miracles until she’s called to a town experiencing the great plagues

Review: Way back in 2007, I’d not really heard of Idris Elba, with David Morrissey yet to terrorise survivors in The Walking Dead and Hillary Swank was the big name draw for this movie. So it was  a pleasant surprise to see so many recognisable faces during a recent rewatch.

Swank plays ‘Catherine’ who has a convoluted back story relating to being a minister who lost her family while acting as a missionary in Sudan. Her story is very contrived and for me pulls the movie down. The constant flash-backs to her time there pull you out of the movie and in my opinion do not add to her story or explain her actions. I would have found her a stronger character had she have been firmly a scientist, seeking to disprove ‘miracles’ like Sigourney Weaver in ‘Red Lights’. Elba is slightly misused throughout, although his devotion to Swank is clear, although it’s never explained why. Morrissey is restrained, with flashes of his character from Walking Dead seen.

Some scenes seem overly long while others are drenched in colours which make it difficult to clearly see following scenes which are too dark. It’s not particularly original and the twist is fairly obvious from the beginning but that doesn’t make it unwatchable.

This movie has a low score on IMDB and I think it’s slightly undeserved. Many people will be put off by the religious storyline – a town is experiencing the Biblical plagues – but that’s doing a disservice to the film. It’s a solid thriller, with good performances from the cast, albeit with some interesting director and editing decisions.

Movie review: The Horde (La Horde) (2009)

The Horde 2009.jpg

Synopsis: The zombie apocalypse has arrived, trapping a group of crooked police, gangsters and the undead in a high-rise tower block, they must join forces if they are to survive, but is death really a more viable option than working with the enemy?

Director: Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher

Starring: Claude Perron, Jean-Pierre Martins, Eriq Ebouaney

Review: There’s been a lot of zombie movies and TV shows recently but in my opinion this is one of the best. I know foreign movies aren’t for everybody but this is a well scripted and acted movie that means it’s well worth sticking with the subtitles.

The characters are all standout, although not particularly likeable and well crafted with their individual arcs played out. The action is good and zombie make up is well done. There’s a few cliches of course but overall it’s an excellent movie.

Movie Review: Case 39 (2009)

Director: Christian Alvart

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Ian McShane, Bradley Cooper & Jodelle Ferland

Synopsis: An overworked social worker (Renee Zellweger) becomes too involved with the family of her latest case and works hard to save the young girl from her abusive parents, only to discover that there’s more to ‘Case 39’ than she realised.

Review: I was drawn to this movie because I love Zellweger and loved that she was moving away from her bubblegum characters and was intrigued with her starring in a horror movie – would Bridget Jones be able to take down the forces of hell?

I’m happy to report that everybody gives a solid performance with Zellweger carrying the movie well. Cooper plays the would-be love interest come psychiatrist who works closely with Zellweger and McShane manages to keep his American accept up in his role as the policeman. However special kudos has to go to Ferland in her role as Lilith, the daughter of abusive parents but who has her own secrets. Her transformation from saccharine-sweet school girl to psycho child is subtle and well done.

A well made horror with plenty of twists and turns. Don’t be put off by the thought of Bridget Jones taking down demons: she’s handled Mr Darcy and Mr Cleaver, she can take down a demon-spawn.

Movie review: Bait (2012)


Director: Kimble Rendall

Starring: Sharon Vinson, Richard Brancatisano, Xavier Samuel 

Synopsis: a sudden tsunami traps a group of locals in a grocery store, but it’s not just fruit and veg lurking in the aisles. 

As it’s Shark Week I had planned to do a movie review of one of the plethora of shark movies which have exploded onto our screens over recent years, but frankly they’re either so good they’ve been reviewed to a death more thorough than Quint’s in Jaws (it’s flawed but who doesn’t love Deep Blue Sea?) or frankly so filled with stupidity they deserve to be forgotten under the waves (I’m looking at you Open Water & the Reef) and of course there’s the kitsch world of Sharknado which even this horror fan has barely managed to get through. Then a came across Bait, an Australian movie from 2012.

The premise is similar to many of the movies I’ve mentioned above and I suppose it’s a bit of a mix between Sharknado and the Reef with a tsunami causing the local town to flood, trapping a group of people inside a rapidly flooding grocery store. However, what in my opinion elevates the movie is that whilst non of the characters are particularly likeable (of course there are a few who are sweet, and likeable etc, but none really stand out) there are a number of humerous quips and set pieces which I enjoyed, and firmly reminded me of the subtle dead-pan humour I love about the Aussies. There’s also the knowledge that Aussies are used to, or at least aware of sharks and so the stupid actions you see of characters in other films aren’t as evident here.

Set in the grocery store, the director creates a lovely sense of claustrophobia which builds tension, but also the space is used very effectively, with much of the action taking place in submerged garages or on top of shelving. Underwater shots are handled well, without the shaky-cam or loss of clarity seen elsewhere. Lighting and colours also add to this, which helps to elevate it slightly above some of the other shark movies mentioned above. 

The setting limits the tools and weapons the characters get to use too, although they are very industrious with what they have, and there’s the usual character with ‘knowledge’ of weapons (usually ex-services or ex-con. They simply allude to a ‘shady past’ here). 

I don’t know any of the actors, but a quick look at IMDB shows they’re all from assorted Australian soaps and they all put in good performances. However, I was really pleased that the director used animatronic sharks rather than going for CGI as I always feel it gives more realism and the actors are all looking at the same thing (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels where no one seems to know which CGI aliens eye to look in!). 

There are a lot of shark movies out there, but this one has a little more bite than others. 

Movie review: Train to Busan (2016) 


Synopsis: A zombie virus breaks out and a group of survivors are caught on a train, but who is more deadly – the zombies or the survivors?
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Su-An Kim, Yoo Gong, Dong-Seok Ma
Review: I’d heard good things about Train to Busan and it had been on my watch list so I was really pleased when it became available on Amazon Prime. The premise is simple, there’s a toxic spillage from a chemical factory which turns creatures into crazed zombies (the 28 Days Later kind, not shambling Shawn of the Dead). I’m a fan of zombie films, but have been finding the recent crop rather stale and unoriginal which is why Train to Busan was such a joy.

So many zombie movies are all about the action but without the heart (or brains if you’ll pardon the pun). That’s what makes Train to Busan so different, the relationships are central: from the bickering relationship between the sisters, camaraderie of the teens, the married couple expecting their first baby (as an aside, I wish I was even half as mobile as this lady during my pregnancy. Given I was on crutches, I’d have been eaten before the opening credits stopped!), the train crew and the central story of the father trying to get his daughter to Busan to see his ex-wife. You’re rooting for all of them to survive, especially as they aren’t making the sort of stupid decisions you so often see in zombie films (I spend a lot of time saying ‘what the hell are you doing?’). There’s even a fantastic ‘baddie’ who’s motivation you can relate to but at the same time, you’re desperate for him to suffer a horrific end. All are played superbly by an excellent cast.

The direction is very good, with equal care taken during the action scenes as well as some of the more emotional scenes. Shots switched from wide shots of the beautiful South Korean scenery or train stations to inside toilet cubicles – and surprisingly the latter didn’t feel claustrophobic. I liked the choice of music which was in-keeping and never overwhelmed with the action or the talking. The special effects were very good, both the make up on the zombies and the larger pieces which can be rare in horror films with a small budget.

It’s been quite a while since a zombie movie packed so many feels into two hours – I raced between being scared, to angry, to ultimately crying. This is a fantastic movie and one I’ll be watching again and again. Go see it now!

Movie review: The Boy (2016)

Synopsis: An American nanny is hired to take care of a young boy, the only problem is, the ‘boy’ is made of porcelain. Violating the strict rules his parents said she must follow, she begins to sense the boy is alive, and may want more than just a nanny to care for him

Director: William Brent Bell

Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle

Review: I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this movie. It started with the typical ‘girl takes a job despite it having a dodgy job description to escape her ex’. The family she works for are very odd and their unease, portrayed excellently by Norton and Hardcastle. They ask Cohan to look after their ‘son’ a porcelain doll which is more than a little creepy, and they have a number of rules which must be followed to ensure his care.

Cohan will be known to viewers of ‘The Walking Dead’. The naiveté and winning smile she brings to Maggie Green in her battle against zombies on the show is also evident here (I’ll admit, we’re VERY behind with The Walking Dead so I’m not sure if she’s still smiling) as she plays a fairly likeable character, but it’s not soon before she’s left on her own and ignoring the rules for caring for the Boy. What happens next made me think we were on for a supernatural twist and Cohen plays it well, with a mixture of excitement and unease at caring for a ‘ghost’. Obviously, this idea is boosted by Evans telling her about Norton and Hardcastle’s son who was an odd child and died in mysterious circumstances.

The ending was a cliched surprise. By that I mean, the movie didn’t go in the direction I expected, but as soon as it did, there wasn’t anything new to add, although there were a few jumps. I suppose for me, part of the issue was that, as lovely as Cohan is her, I wasn’t really that engaged with her or any of the other characters. There was also no satisfactory explanation as to why the Boy’s parents had set up such an elaborate ruse. The direction was good in that it’s claustrophobic and made you feel as if there’s something unsettling in the house but at times was a little too light and breezy to maintain the suspense.

The Boy is a good Friday night movie: it doesn’t demand too much and delivers a few spooks and scares, but it needs to grow up a lot before it joins the big boys of horror.

Movie review: Below (2002)

Synopsis: An American submarine stops to rescue survivors of a sunken ship but as soon as they are on board, strange happenings start to occur in this claustrophobic supernatural thriller.

Director: David Twohy

Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Dexter Fletcher, Matthew Davis and Olivia Williams

Review: I normally avoid war movies but I was drawn to this one due to its supernatural twist and also Dexter Fletcher – who doesn’t love him? Plus, ghost stories set at sea? I’ve not seen or heard one I didn’t love.

Anyway the pretence is that an American submarine undertakes a routine rescue mission, saving Williams and Fletcher. There’s plenty of misgivings about having a woman on board the submarine, not helped by things going bump in the depths.

Due to the setting of the film, it’s very claustrophobic which helps to build tension but it’s also well acted with even the minor characters putting in a good performance. Williams plays her usual ‘too cool British character’ we’ve seen in other films and shows such as Dollhouse but she does bring a certain depth to her character. Fletcher is typical Fletcher and plays his character well, while Davis as the first officer struggling to follow the commands of a rapidly unravelling Greenwood is excellent. However, it is Greenwood who steals the show as the war-hardened captain with a big secret.

I’ve mentioned the claustrophobia caused by the set but the director makes best use of the space and you get a feel for what life in a submarine must be like. The creaks and groans as the sub descends also adds to the unease felt by the crew and the fact that you know there is no escape when things start to go wrong builds tension and you’ll find yourself wishing the crew weren’t so far under water when ghostly happenings start to occur.

This was no jump-out-of-your-chair horror but a well crafted and thoughtful supernatural thriller which kept me entertained from beginning to end. I think it’s a shame that it’s not been more widely viewed and for those of you with Netflix it’s a great Friday night movie.