Movie review: Savageland

Director: Phil Guidry, Simon Herbert and David Whelan

Starring: Patrick Pedraza, Monica Davis, Edward L. Green

Review: I’m not normally a fan of ‘found footage’ movies, as they frequently seem an excuse for poor quality filmmaking but I enjoyed Savageland and have watched it a few times now. The film is a ‘documentary’ assessing the evidence around the trial of a Mexican immigrant, accused of going on a rampage and killing everyone in an Arizona town. People are convinced of his guilt until a roll of photographic film which seems to correspond with the strange tale told by ‘Diego’ (Pedraza) of a wave of crazed, zombie-style monsters sweeping through the town.

The movie cuts between interviews with family, the sheriff and a photojournalist, footage of Diego in jail and analysis of the photographs. It’s well edited with no lingering shots and has a strong ‘made for TV’ supernatural documentary feel. But that shouldn’t put viewers off because whilst there is no CGI or loud action sequences the story is allowed to unfold at its own pace, introducing characters and monsters at a pace you can feel sympathy for Diego, whilst also wondering, did he do it?

Because none of the scenes lingers for too long on any one character, and most people are playing survivors being interviewed, there are no real ‘weak’ performances, nor are there any characters you feel particular dislike for. Our sympathy for Diego fluctuates as we learn more and see footage of him in jail. The movie is good because it raises the issue of illegal immigrants, which is timely given the current climate but doesn’t really provide any answers or dissuade people from their prejudices.

The idea of monsters being caught on film has been used in the film for years but I like the twist that these grainy images form the defence of a man accused of murder. However, it also left me somewhat dissatisfied because there was no clear explanation as to what the creatures were or even a clear shot of them – were they aliens, zombies, something unclassified in cryptozoology?

However, I found this a fresh take on a genre which I have long avoided and would recommend others to grab their cameras for a night out if you dare!

Movie review: Lost Creek (2016)

Director: Colin Adams-Toomey

Starring: Oliver Stockman, Henry Stockman, Brynna Bartoo and Lisa Coruzzi

Review: I always like to give independent movies a try because you do frequently find a hidden gem with original stories and genuine jumps. Sadly, that’s not quite the case with Lost Creek. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, just a bit, well, Lost.

Stockman plays ‘Peter’, the new boy in town, struggling to make friends and deal with the fall out of his parents divorce with his only friend ‘Bill’ played by Stockman. One night he goes for a walk by the creek and meets ‘Maggie’ played by Bartoo who warns him about creatures in the woods. It’s not long before the creatures are no longer confined to the woods and people around town begin to disappear.

Elements of ‘Stranger Things’ and Stephen King novels have obviously influenced the writers but unfortunately a number of factors mean ‘Lost Creek’ does not live up to expectations. The young cast do pretty well but do not have the polish of other child actors (it should be noted that this is their first feature film and I hope they all go on to great things as all show good potential which is sadly not achieved here). However, it’s the adult actors who let the movie down and I actually cringed when Peter’s mother, played by Coruzzi was on screen.

The story itself is a little all over the place and I think this is due to the number of ‘monsters’ they want to use – from school bullies, ghosts, monsters in the woods, who are the audience supposed to be afraid of? It’s this lack of unfocus, along with lingering on shots for too long, plus the ‘twist’ being obvious from the beginning which leaves Lost Creek wallowing in a damp bog. There is good stuff here, which with some tighter editing, the removal of Coruzzi and more focus on the ‘monster’ it could be a classic, but as it is, it’s sadly easy to get lost in the muddled stories of Lost Creek.

Movie review: Siren (2013)

Director: Jesse Peyronel

Starring: Vinessa Shaw, Robert Kazinsky

Review: There’s something familiar yet distinct about about ‘Siren’.’Leigh’ (Shaw) was born with an over-abundance of pheromones, to the extent that any man who smells her imagines her to be his perfect woman and falls in love with her. This leads to assorted problems involving stalking, threats and physical attacks when their romantic overtures are rejected. After an issue with a particularly amorous neighbour, Leigh meets ‘Guy’, a man who has lost his sense of smell and is therefore unaffected by her pheromones. One thing leads to another and she invites him to stay with her so help with different projects around her large, rambling house. The story of ‘boy meets girl’ followed by betrayal, confrontation and ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation has been told countless times and this movie does little to add anything new to this trope.Â

Released the same year which saw Kazinsky in ‘Pacific Rim’ it has been overlooked which is a shame as it does have its charm and makes a very intimate counter to the large and brash Pacific Rim. Shaw plays the lonely Leigh, desperate for human contact but fearful of the effects her pheromones have on others, with delicacy but perhaps a little too much meet woman-in-need-of-rescuing for my tastes. I would have hoped after a lifetime of dealing with unwanted attention from men she would have learned something better than whimpering when they meet her. The rest of the cast put in a rather standard performance.

Directer Peyronel uses the house and sets well with everything bathed in hues of yellows and gold until the scenes featuring Leigh either extracting her pheromones or the climax which worked well and I liked the subtle use of music. They elevate an otherwise standard movie.

It seems strange to recommend a film which in many ways is so standard but I’ve fallen under the Siren spell and I’m sure you will too.

Movie review: Darkness (2002)

Director: Juame Balaguero

Starring: Anna Paquin, Lena Olin and Iain Glen

Synopsis: A family move from the city to the country but there’s more than mice roaming their new home and making things go bump in the night.

Review: So, your average 2.4 family moves to the country into a large gothic style house. It’s not long before the children start noticing strange things going on, (the parents become angry for no reason, the beast under the bed steals colouring pencils, the little boy is doing the same gruesome drawings over and over again etc.) but as usual all their fears are dismissed by those older and wiser.

It’s a slow-build movie, which I’m normally a fan of. However, with a slow-build the reason they are enjoyable is because you grow to like the characters yet there’s not much to like as they are all two-dimensional. The mother is distant, while the father goes from loving to aggressive in moments while the young boy scribbles drawings with his pencils. And then there’s the teenage daughter, played by Paquin. As an actress I like Paquin and I think she brings a depth to her characters like few actresses her age can, but in this, there are too many cliches for her to battle against (honestly, there’s only so many times you can say ‘It’s this house’ in a breathless manner before people become annoyed).

There’s also an eclectic mix of accents in the movie which was one thing I found really distracting about this movie (it’s the little things which annoy me), including Iain Glen’s poor attempts at an American (?) accent. If part of the storyline was he was estranged from his father and moved to a new country, why couldn’t it have been England where his weird accent wouldn’t have been noticed? And also, if you lived in a house which suffered so many electric failures, wouldn’t you carry a torch with you all the time?

A few glimpses of spectral figures, a record player which starts playing on its own, prank ghostly telephone calls and a grim warning from an old man are not enough to spooky stakes. It’s slow, boring and the twist in the tale is obvious after about 10minutes.

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: 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.