Movie review: Valentine (2001)

Valentine 2001

Synopsis: A group of school friends find themselves hunted by a Valentine-sending, masked killer.

Director: Bruce McDonald

Starring: David Boreanez, Denise Richards, Marley Shelton

Review: I originally watched this as a huge fan of Boreanez (I was massively into Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time). It was part of a glut of similar movies (including Urban Legend, the ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer series, and Scream to name a few) starring semi-well-know actors who were all murdered in various ways by mysterious killers.

The premise is much the same for all these movies: a group of friends has a shared history, during which they caused harm to someone, in this instance the group of girls were rude to a young boy ‘Jeremy Melton’, who comes back years later to exact his revenge.

There’s little to make this movie stand out (unless you’re a fan of Boreanez). The performances are fairly standard, with Richards playing the over-sexed vixen she seems to have been type-cast as, Broeanez playing it pretty similar to his Angel character and Shelton seeming to be permanently annoyed (possibly for agreeing to do this movie). None of the characters are particularly nice, especially the assorted males who hit on the girls – they’re overtly lechy, rude and unprofessional that it’s unbelievable and you sort of wish the killer would do us all a favour and ‘off’ them so save us their performances. As for the girl, it’s hard to see why their friendship as survived, as aside from attending parties together, they don’t have any camaraderie, so really it’s just a matter of waiting to see what way they’ll be murdered. Valentine is sadly not a gift for your loved one, but like a bad date, once it’s over, you never need to see it again.

Movie Review: The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook movie poster 2014

Synopsis: A widow and her son battle with an evil entity in their home. Don’t invite in the Babadook!

Director: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

Review: I first watched the Babadook when my daughter was first born and I remember being terrified. I couldn’t watch it all in one sitting and had to watch the rest during the day whilst the baby slept as I was too scared to watch it at night.

So, I wondered how I would feel, watching it nearly four years later with the benefit of dealing with my own little bundle of trouble (although thankfully no Babadook!).

Well, I was still terrified! In many respects, my situation is completely opposite to that of Davis’ character but I have a definite feel for the exhaustion felt by a mother when you’ve got a child who hasn’t slept for an extended period, coupled with the demands of a job, keeping house and all the other pressures both external and internal.

Davis has rightly been lauded as she gives a fantastically nuanced performance of an exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed single mother caring for a troubled child whilat also grieving for her husband. Her character is trying to manage so many things without support from her family, no real friends and a child with very specific needs. Her son, played by Wiseman also deserves huge praise for excelling is a very challenging role. I’m always impressed with child actors who are able to display a maturity in their performance well beyond their years and should he continue to follow an acting path, then I expect we’ll see more stellor performances from him.

However, the kudos belongs to writer and director Kent.  This project was born from a 10minute short caleed ‘Monster‘ she wrote and directed. Nearly ten years later the story was still nagging at her and she expanded it to create ‘The Babadook’. Kent’s other credits include directing an episode of a TV show, acting and producing. She truly has a rounded knowledge of the industry and this is evident with the slick delivery of ‘The Babadook’.

From the first instant, the movie has you on edge and it doesn’t release you until the final few scenes. Kent’s use of different colours to signify moods works well, with the bright sunlight of time spent outside in contrast to the blues and greys of their home. This lighting lends itself well to the scary scenes which are light enough to see the action, unlike some horror movies where I have no idea who is running in terror etc as it’s too dark to see anything.

The script, for the most part, is sharply written and Kent’s observations of looking after a child, as well as pressures placed on parents both by society and themselves are dealt with well. The scene where the group of mums are sympathising with Davis’ ‘Amelia’ whilst also silently judging her is spot on and something I know a lot of mothers have endured. Amelia’s isolation in this scene, reflected both in the fact that the colour of her dress is different to the muted colours of the ‘popular’ mum gang, as well as having her seated whilst the other mums are standing at the opposite end of the table is a scene which has stuck in my memory. It’s not overtly horrific but it’s one of the more run-of-the-mill daily encounters which resonated with me, and one which I experienced more the second time I watched it because like ‘Amelia’ I’ve had to find my voice to stand up to others who have judged my parenting style.

It’s an intimate movie in many ways, with the bulk just playing out between Davis and Wiseman. Keeping other characters at arms length works well to help build up the tension of what lurks in the house as well as the sense of isolation felt by ‘Amelia’. The creepiness of the book as well as the lack of explantion as to where the Babadook comes from is works well. Sometimes the over-explanation of where the ‘big bad’ is from slows down the pacing and doesn’t add anything so it’s lack allows speculation and for the viewer to create their own scary ideas.

Overall, I loved this movie. There were a few minor niggles I had but then, everyone’s a critic and they didn’t stop me from enjoying this movie. It’s one I’ll definitely be watching again, although hopefully not from behind a pillow!

If you’ve enjoyed this review, have a look at the other movies I’ve reviewed.

Movie Review: Hollow Creek (2016)

Hollow Creek 2016 cover

Hollow Creek 2016 cover

Synopsis: A horror novelist and his lover escape to a remote cabin in Hollow Creek whilst he works on his latest novel but it’s not long before spooky occurrences put a strain on the lovebirds

Director: Guisela Moro

Starring: Guilsela Moro, Steve Daron, Burt Reynolds

Review: I’ll be honest, the reason I watched ‘Hollow Creek‘ was that I was curious to see what Burt Reynolds was up to nowadays. Given the low score on IMDB I wasn’t overly hopeful but I was pleasantly surprised.

As well as directing and starring, Moro also wrote the screenplay (with Daron collaborating). There’s a lot going on in the movie, with the relationship challenges between Moro and Daron, Daron’s writer’s block, missing children and more. In some respects, having so much backstory for the characters makes for a slightly muddled and unevenly paced movie but I understand the writer’s choices for including it. It’s said that an author’s work contains elements of themselves and I think this is true of this movie, with certain comments reflecting a conservative, Catholic upbringing.

I liked the colour palate Moro used and it definitely added to the atmosphere of the movie in my opinion: hues of blue for Daron, Green for Moro and darker greys when there are supernatural occurrences or danger. Moro proves herself an adept director, especially given this is only her second directorial feature and there are few of the unnecessary or wasted shots more experienced directors are guilty of. I would say that I found the ending a little cliche and silly, but given the build-up, I’m unsure of how else they could have ended the film.

The acting can be patchy, including from the leads and this is highlighted by Reynold’s restrained performance. The scenes with the police officers, in particular, I found annoying and wishing they were over. I’m not sure if this was due to the acting or the cliched writing, but they did slow the pace of the movie. The scenes involving Daron’s editor also slow the pace and I don’t feel add anything to the film. Despite the uneven acting, it was still watchable and viewers should not be put off.

I can understand why there are a number of people for whom this movie didn’t work: there’s no gore, limited violence and much of the supernatural aspects are kept to a minimum, although they do provide a ‘jump’ when they happen. It’s also a real mixture of relationship drama, supernatural horror, crime and mystery. I feel the low score it’s been given on IMDB is unfair, as there are higher rated movies which do not have the care that Hollow Creek does. As I said above, there’s a lot to cram into a movie just shy of two hours. However, it definitely worth a visit to Hollow Creek.

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: Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

Bad Kids Go To Hell 2012

Synopsis: The Breakfast Club meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacare

Director: Matthew Spradlin

Starring: Judd Nelson, Ben Browder, Amanda Alch, Augie Duke & Cameron Deane Stewart

Review: I didn’t have high hopes for this movie, based on an indie comic book, but I was quickly drawn in. There’s the stereotypical teens, from the jock, the oversexed ‘bad girl’, preppy virgin, misunderstood new boy who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and more.

If you’ve seen The Breakfast Club you’ll be familiar with the premise of students from different social groups being forced to spend time together in detention on Saturday morning but there’s a twist.

The acting is solid and while none of the characters are particularly likeable or sympathetic, you do find yourself cheering for them and I found them surprising me as their characters developed. There’s no one stand out performance but Jeffrey Schmidt as the doctor has some cracking lines.

There’s flashbacks to how to characters interacted and got detention but they don’t slow the story down at all and there’s a number of laughs to break the tension (the scene in the cafeteria is rather amusing). The plot is well-paced and you’ll keep guessing until the very end if it’s all the supernatural or one particularly evil student who’s killing everybody off. I strongly recommend you see this shamefully underrated movie.

Bad Kids Go To Hell comic.jpeg

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.