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. 

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.

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Movie Review: Ink (2009)


Synopsis: As we sleep the Storyteller and Incubi battle for our dreams, and in the case of little Emma, for her very soul. Her father, John must journey to save her. Will he be able to save her from the strange creature ‘Ink’?

Director: Jamie Winans

Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Quinn Hunchar and Jessica Duffy

Review: I watch a LOT of movies and have had a run of very bad films (check out my Reviews) so it was such a joy to discover ‘Ink’ (and the other film by Wimins, ‘Frame’ but more on that next week). I really, REALLY enjoyed it so prepare for gushing.

Where to start? The soundtrack, cinematography, originality of story and (the majority of the) acting is sublime. 

The story: father John (Kelly) worksto hard and doesn’t spend them with his daughter Emma (Hunchar). During a battle with the ‘Storytellers’ and the ‘Incubi’ Emma’s soul is stolen by ‘Ink’ who’s determined to use it to pay his way into the Incubi. Cue Storyteller Liev (Duffy) who vows to protect her while other Storytellers battle to safe them. Ok, so it doesn’t sound that original But Winans visual and style raise this above the usual fair. The opening battle between the Storytellers. And Incubi may not have the slick punches of a Hollywood blockbuster but it’s well choreographed and makes good use of the space. My favourite character is the blind man but Duffy emits an inner grace I can only aspire to. 

The difference in colours between the real world, land of dreams and world of nightmares was a treat and I didn’t feel the changes pulled you out of the story. There’s also an interesting use of lighting, especially in the world of nightmares which I won’t spoil for you but which were very clever. 

The sets and costumes were mixed, but didn’t suggest a lack of design or care in their creation. Again, this isn’t a big-budget film but I was extremely impressed with what was created using their budget. This is helped by the directors use of different colour filters for each ‘land’.

The soundtrack is beautiful, a mix of haunting piano and some other arrangements. It fits perfectly with the directors visuals and is my new favourite writing music. 

But there have to be some negatives. A few of the actors give uneven performances, including Kelly which does make the movie feel disjointed. Other reviewers have complained about the visuals which they found jarring or too unusual to accept, or the lack of classification for this film – is it fantasy? A horror? Sci fi? But for me, it didn’t need classification, it was a beautiful movie which defied classification and was the stronger for it because it emcompassed so much. 

So, there are a huge number of independent film makers out there, many of whom are doing (in my opinion!) amazing work and need our support. Winans visuals may not appeal to all but his beautiful storytelling and the haunting music means you’ll be thinking of ‘Ink’ long after the credits have finished. 

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.

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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: 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)

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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.