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.

Throwback Thursday: Interview for SFF

Last year I was interviewed with Adele for SFF World as part of our launch of Fennec Books, the imprint of Fox Spirit Books, for whom I’m commissioning editor. Our first book, Ghoulsome Graveyard (written by me) is already available, and our next book, which I commissioned, will be out soon. It was such an interesting and exciting project to read submissions and choose the novel I really enjoyed and to work with such a gifted writer. I can’t wait for you to read more about what were doing. In the meantime, check out our interview here.

Inspiration for Weird Wild

Weird-Wild

My collection of short stories, Weird Wild, was published on 20 March 2014. The first story I wrote for it was called ‘The Lake’ and was written as part of an online writing challenge. I didn’t know then what it would grow into!

My book babies, out in the wild!

I’ve always loved the woods. There’s nothing more relaxing than walking through forests, unless you’re being chased by a werewolf! We’ve visited forests in the UK, including ‘Wistman’s Wood’ in Dartmoor, as well as rainforests in Latin America and Asia and all helped inspire ‘Weird Wild’, with creepy mists, crooked trees and hidden dens.

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Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor

The Stone Circle in Weird Wild is definitely inspired by my love of archaeology. I love Stonehenge and have been fascinated by stone circles, both in terms of what they tell us about our ancestors, but also the more mystical elements. My logical, scientific brain (and a number of my tutors!) debunked the idea of ley lines but there’s still something magical about these stones. Who’s to say they aren’t portals to the fairy realm?

Stonehenge. I visited it while studying and the image of the stones rising from the earth has stayed with me. Magical

How pretty are bluebells? It was an annual tradition growing up to visit ‘Bluebell Woods’ and see them when they bloomed each spring. I was fascinated to learn some of the more nefarious uses of this beautiful, if deadly, bell. I’d also never claim to be a poet, but the poem for Weird Wild was written fairly quickly, the voices and the bells ringing clearly.

Buriton 2002

Bluebells near where I grew up.

 

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Dartmoor, UK

So many beautiful lakes inspired ‘The Lake’. Whilst Lago Roja in Bolivia isn’t surrounded by trees like the lake in Weird Wild, the stillness and sense of isolation crept into the story.

Lago Roja, Bolivia. It was so peaceful and ethereal here

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Out in the wild!

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As always, any sticky plot points were worked out during long walks. There’s something about being outside which definitely clears the fog and helps the writing process.

Check out those wild flowers!

 

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You can get your copy of Weird Wild from Amazon, or contact me below for a signed copy!

Things That Go Bump In The Night

‘Monster!’ Christopher pointed a small, pudgy finger towards the wardrobe, hugging his teddy bear tightly.

His mum, Sarah, lay him gently down in his bed. ‘No, sweetie, there’s no monsters in your wardrobe,’ she said, tucking his blankets around him.

Christopher sat up and pointed again. ‘Monster, mummy.’ Sarah looked into his saucer eyes and signed inwardly.

Forcing a smile to her face she rose and crossed to the wardrobe in the corner of the room. She made a dramatic show of opening the doors and rummaging through the few items of clothing hanging on their small hangers. She lifted out the boxes of toys and even lifted out his tiny shoes and peeked into each. ‘See? No monsters. Now, time for bed.’

‘Bed. Monsters. Bed, mummy.’ Christopher started waving under the bed, tears springing to his eyes.

‘That’s enough Christopher,’ his father, Mike, stood wearily at the door. Sarah threw him a sharp look. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘We go through this nonsense every night. There’s no monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed. Playing along just encourages him. Come on, you little monster. You’re the scariest thing in this room, so off to bed.’

‘Dr Jenkins said we shouldn’t dismiss his fears,’ hissed Sarah.

‘Well Dr Jenkins can spend three hours putting him to bed every night as I’m fed up with eating cold dinners.’

Sarah glared at her husband before quickly forcing a smile to her lips and stroking her son’s cheek. She reached under his cot and pulled out a stuffed toy. She brought it to her lips and whispered in its ear before handing it to her son. ‘Now Chris, I’d like you to meet Mega Mo. He’s a monster eater and I’ve just asked him to look after you all night, ok?’

Christopher looked at his mum, then at the toy. he chewed his lip as he studied Mega Mo. Mega Mo had a small, squat body, clad in denim dungarees. Small black leather boots stuck out the bottom, laces tied neatly in a bow. His arms were disproportionally long and muscular, the stitching etching out his fingers of his broad hands. However, it was his face that Christopher spent the longest studying – it was circular with two small, black eyes made from buttons, two cloth ears stuck out at 90degrees from his head and wool stuck out the top to form hair. It was his mouth which Christopher spent the longest looking at as it was overly wide, almost slicing his head in half. Velcro stuck his lips together, but it opened easily as Christopher pulled. Mega Mo’s mouth was empty, just a cloth bag.

‘As if he wasn’t already seeing monsters, you’re giving him one to sleep with,’ muttered Mike.

‘Dr Jenkins suggested it as a comforter. Mega Mo isn’t afraid of anything, Christopher and he look after you, ok? Now, lights out, time for sleep.’ Sarah rose and before Christopher could complain moved to the door, flicking off the light. His parents paused in the doorway, giving their eyes a moment to adjust to the assorted night lights Christopher insisted light his room. ‘Night, sweetie,’ said his mum.

‘Night son,’ his dad called, already heading to the kitchen.

Within a few minutes Christopher head the ping of the microwave as his parents reheated their dinners and the television as they flicked through the channels.

Christopher hugged Mega Mo to his chest as he sat in his cot. He knew they were out there, waiting. Every night since they had moved into the new house was the same: the monsters under his bed would wake him up. Christopher didn’t know why they did these things, other than to torment him. He’d hear them giggling, their long fingers curling around his blankets before dragging them off of him. He’d feel their breath on his face as they flicked his ears and their sandpaper skin as they yanked his feet. Christopher squeezed his eyes closed tightly and pretended to go to sleep. Sometimes they didn’t bother him if he was asleep. Sometimes.

The familiar scratching started at his wardrobe door, one long fingernail dragged across the wood, slowly at first, then in faster, shorter bursts until the door creaked open. A low buzz filled the room, causing the bars on Christopher’s cot to rattle. He closed his eyes more tightly, covering them with his small hands, fingers splayed over his face.

His cot was moving now, bouncing on the carpet as the creatures bounded out from underneath. Christoper started shaking. It sounded like more of the creatures were coming than had ever before. The giggling creatures moved around the room, their long claws plucking at the carpet as Christopher continued to shake, tears free-flowing down his cheeks.

The sound of velcro ripping made him pause. He desperately didn’t want to take his hands away from his eyes, but curiosity finally pulled them down to his sides. He started to reach for Mega Mo, only to discover the toy was no longer by his side. Christoper quickly scanned his bed, his blanket rumbled beside him, his bottle the other side, but the stuffed toy was nowhere to be seen.

A squeak from under the bed drew his attention. He hesitantly reached for the bars of his cot, but pulled back when he heard another squeak, followed by a thump. His cot rattled, then stilled.

Swallowing hard, Christopher peered through the bars. He saw Mega Mo on the floor, his broad arms swinging like a windmill, his club hands knocking the creatures down. He paused, scooping up several of the creatures and, grinning widely before opening his mouth and dropping the screaming creatures into the chasm. A blue felt tongue whipped around, licking his lips before he started chasing more of the creatures around the room, gulping them down as he caught them. Christopher watched as Mega Mo ate all of the creatures until there was one left, cowering in the corner. He chittered to Mega Mo who smiled before launching himself at the creature. In one fluid move he swallowed it whole. He stood upright and surveyed the room. Christopher followed his gaze and for the first time, he listened to the silence of his room.

‘Wow, I can’t believe he’s asleep!’ whispered Sarah, retaking the blankets that had slipped from around Christopher’s shoulders.

‘I know, he’d normally have screamed by now,’ muttered Mike. ‘Told you it was just a phase.’

‘Or Mega Mo helped. Where is that toy anyway?’ Sarah’s foot nudged against something. She looked down and saw Mega Mo. ‘What are you doing out of Christopher’s cot? I told you to protect him.’ She bent to pick up the toy. ‘Blimey, you’re heavier than I remember.’

‘Forget about the toy,’ hissed Mike, ‘Just enjoy the tranquility.’

Sarah tucked Mega Mo in next to Christoper who instinctively hugged him. He smiled in his sleep, dreaming of monsters, and those who ate them.

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: 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.