Movie Review: A CURE FOR WELLNESS

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a cure for wellness20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.”

A Wall Street stockbroker travels to a remote location in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious wellness center. He soon suspects that the miraculous treatments are not what they seem. His sanity is tested when he unravels the spa’s terrifying secrets and finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all of the guests there longing for a cure.

I have to say, so far the year that is 2017 seems to be a good one for horror movies of the psychological thriller type. It was kicked off in January with Split, now we have A Cure For Wellness in February to give us a good, refreshing psychological horror flick that will play with our minds gleefully like a drunken kitten.

While the reviews for A Cure For Wellness were mixed (to say the least), I went to see it on the opening weekend (caught a late Saturday morning showing), and personally, I found A Cure For Wellness to be a very satisfying, if not uneven, horror flick that really got under my skin, traveled upwards and burrowed its way into my brain, nesting there since.

The story of A Cure For Wellness has a young and upwardly-mobile business shark that gets the attention of the Senior Partners when one of his techniques nearly jeopardizes their long-term goals. So, they send the whippersnapper to the Swiss Alps to a retreat that specializes in hydration health restoration techniques, with the mission to bring back one of the Senior Partners who has been there relaxing, so that he may take the fall if things go south. Pretty simple, really. Except, of course, things seem a bit…off at the sanitarium high up in the hills, as the Senior Partner doesn’t want to leave, and the hospital staff seems to have a serious creepy vibe, as if they were pulled from an Ira Levin novel. Soon, though, something happens that lands the young shark boy as one of the patients in the sanitarium, which is when he discovers that everything that’s happening at the place might not be what it seems, and as he’s given a string of therapy session, his perception of reality gets even more wonky as he struggles to find the truth behind the sanitarium. Wackiness ensues.

A Cure For Wellness manages to stick with you long after the end credits roll and you stagger back out into the world, causing you to chew over and process things, resulting in putting off hammering out a review to post in a timely manner. Sorry about that. This is definitely a Gore Verbinski movie, and as a psychological horror it’s rather effective…for the most part. It works best as in Ira Levin novel as filtered through Alfred Hitchcock. The last reel, though, turns suddenly into a William Castle flick, with a twist that made me rather squicky. But, fortunately, it doesn’t cause the movie to fall flat, and we’re left with a rather satisfying sense of paranoia and dread that will resonate for hours.

Overall, for a horror movie that was released so early in the year, A Cure For Wellness surprised me with a high-quality romp through mind-bending psychological horror. It’s subtle and slow-burning, and comes recommended if you’re burned out on all the recent paste-by-numbers horror flicks of late.

Movie Review: ABATTOIR

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abattoir movie posterMomentum Pictures
2016
R

An investigative reporter works to solve the mystery behind a mysterious man who has been buying houses where tragedies have occurred. Set in a world where it always feels like night, even in daylight hours, real estate reporter Julia Talben’s life is turned upside down when her family is brutally murdered. It is believed to be an open and closed case, but Julia quickly realizes there is much more to this story when she returns to the crime scene to find the murder room deconstructed and physically removed from her sister’s home. This ignites an investigative pursuit that eventually leads her and ex-lover Detective Declan Grady to the town of New English where they find the enigmatic Jebediah Crone and the Abattoir–a monstrous house stitched together with unending rooms of death and the damned. Julia comes to realize that her sister’s soul is trapped inside, but the Abattoir isn’t just a house–it’s a door to something more evil than anyone could have ever imagined. Julia and Grady are ultimately faced with the question: How do you build a haunted house? One room at a time.

So, just recently, I decided to rent a handful of movies based solely on the cover art and titles alone. I didn’t read the synopsis, I didn’t do any research into any of them; I just saw the cover, thought “this will do”, and picked ’em up to watch over the weekend. The results were…mixed, to say the very least. Although, it’s nothing I haven’t come across before.

Anyway, one of those movies was Abattoir, a movie that was released in the tail end of 2016, and is described as a haunted house movie with a twist. That twist apparently being that it manages to be original while being as disjointed at possible.

The story involves a young and plucky real estate reporter who has a taste for old-timey styles and is looking to move beyond her position and make a name for herself in the crime beat. Then her sister’s family is brutally murdered one night, which is bad enough; what’s weird, though, is that shortly thereafter the room where the murders happen is taken out of the house. Just the one room. Soon, said young and plucky real estate reporter and her Friend Zone’d detective guy begin uncovering other instances where a house that was the scene of a grizzly murder was purchased only to have the room or area where the murder occurred be removed. This and a coincidentally timed retrieval of a bit of documentation stating that her biological parents live in a small town called New English (seriously) causes our plucky real estate reporter to head out to the town, where she finds a weirdness that would give the denizens of Innsmouth pause. Seems that, decades ago, there was a very charismatic circuit preacher that arrived in the town, offering up not salvation, but more a chance to have their best lives now, if but for a pledge of a loved one to sacrifice. Faster than you can make a Joel Olsteen joke, our plucky real estate reporter discovers that she and her sister was sent away in an attempt to break this curse. But, now she’s back, and she’s stumbled upon the massive mansion that was built by all the bits of other houses, the ones that contain the specters of the murders past. A haunted house built from other haunted rooms, if you will. And it’s only missing one thing before it’s finished being built…and she’s the key to that capstone.

So, then, with Abattoir, you get the sense that there’s a fantastic horror movie underneath the surface, but the execution of it fell short of its potential. On the one hand, the concept of a house that’s haunted due to being built from the various bits of other houses that have ghosts with them is something that blows my mind considering all the story possibilities that come with it. The problem is, the actual house in question doesn’t show up until the final 20 minutes of the movie. What comes before is a kind of disjointed noir-ish murder mystery as filtered by Dario Argento, with zero chemistry between the two main characters and a plot that is rather disjointed, leading up to the last part with the house. There are some good points to the movie, like the character of Jebediah Crone. Had we focused on him a bit more, there could have been a better movie, here. And of course, Lin Shaye is always the best part of any movie she’s in, bit part or no.

Overall, Abattoir is certainly different and a bit more innovative than a lot of horror movies I’ve sifted through over the years. It certainly stuck with me a bit more than the one-and-done flicks I began forgetting ten minutes after the movie ended. However, this haunted house movie’s facade was shoddily constructed, and could have done with better building materials.

See what I did, there? I made a house joke. You’re welcome.

Movie Review: SPLIT

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splitUniversal Pictures
2017

“I just had a hot dog.”

Though Kevin has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all of the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him–as the walls between his compartments shatter.

You know, I’ve bee racking my brain, trying to remember if there ever was a time when I willingly went to see a movie, horror or otherwise, in January. I’m sure there was, but I can’t for the life of me find the memory, if it does indeed exist. And if I did, maybe I blocked it out for a reason. I wouldn’t be surprised, as the general rule of movie releases is that January is the dumping ground for the movies that Hollywood couldn’t give a flying whatever about. Kind of like how a Star Destroyer always dumps its trash before it blasts off into hyperspace, the studios like to dump their mostly undesirables at the beginning of the year before they blast off to the Summer Blockbuster period.

Split is the first movie I’ve seen in the theaters for this year of 2017. It is a January movie. It is also an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Kind of a two-strike for me, as it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Shyamalan movie in the theaters as well, let alone had a reaction to watching one beyond “meh”. Of course, my first reaction was to skip it entirely, and maybe catch it when it came out on DVD or VOD or whatever format we The Future Is Now types will be utilizing when it does (I, for one, await the day when video content will be beamed directly into your heads). But then, I began to notice the various movie reviewers giving surprisingly positive reviews about Split, which caused me to rethink my position on not watching it when it was officially released into theaters.

And so I’ve watched Split. And here’s my official assessment of this movie: WOW, this movie was great. I’d use an exclamation point, but I happen to be one of those writers who abhor the over-usage of said punctuation mark, and hardly if ever use it. But, if I did, there would have been at least two of them after that statement. I’m totes super serial, guys.

Split is a slow-burning and effective psychological horror thriller that will get deep under your skin and offers no easy way out. The story involves three high school girls who are abducted one weekend afternoon by a man who has 23 different personalities percolating within his noggin. It seems that three of the 23 have taken over things, with aims to bring about a 24th personality they refer to only as “the Beast”. To expedite this, they/he’s kidnapped these three girls to use as an offering to The Beast to feed upon, to make stronger. Whether they’re talking metaphorically or literally, well…the girls don’t want to stick around to find out. The problem being, they have no idea where they’re at, there are no windows, and everything is locked. But, one of the girls there has a secret of her own that no one else knows about.

I gotta say, Split was a really, really good psychological thriller, in the same level as Silence Of The Lambs and Psycho. It’s tense, things build up slowly (but not so much that I got distracted), and the film is shot fantastically, giving a sense of claustrophobic anxiety throughout the movie’s run time. The main treat in this, though, is the performances from the main characters, specifically James McAvoy as the man with split personalities, and Anya Taylor-Joy as one of the three girls he abducts. McAvoy continues to prove himself above and beyond a capable actor in everything I’ve seen him in; here, he manages to act out several distinct personalities, at one point switching around several every other minute. Though, I have to admit, I was hoping some time a mention of one of his personalities to be a Faun in some snowy fictional land. Or a mutant with mind control powers. And Anya Taylor-Joy…well, what can I say? Having just recently watched The VVitch, and being massively impressed with her acting talent, here she continues to be able to go with intense emotional portrayal in a very believable manner. She’s a young talent to watch out for in future movies.

So, overall, I guess the joke would be the twist in this Shyamalan movie is that, as it turns out, Split is a January movie that doesn’t suck. It’s definitely unexpected in how good this was, and how effective it turned out. As I mentioned, this is a taut psychological horror thriller that’s slightly unconventional but well worth the time.

Movie Review: The BABADOOK

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movie-review_-babadook-theIFC Films
2014
NR

“I have moved on. I don’t mention him. I don’t talk about him.”

Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her out of control 6-year-old Samuel, a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called “The Babadook” turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he’s been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son’s behavior, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.

I have to give it to the Aussies; they really do know how to make an effective horror movie that will get right under your skin. And since I don’t really have a proper segue into it, let’s dive right into the 2014 psychological horror flick The Babadook, shall we?

On the surface, The Babadook looks like one of those dime a dozen The Haunting Of [ENTER STATE/CITY HERE] type of direct-to-video movie that seemed to pop up like a rash after using a public swimming pool in the last decade. Instead, The Babadook goes more for a psychological The Turn Of The Screw route with the story, whereas even at the end of the movie, you still don’t know if there really was a haunting by a supernatural boogieman, or if it was all a massive nervous breakdown experienced by the mother.

There’s a dissonant tension that builds up slowly from the beginning, which relies more on the character development and the almost suffocating atmosphere, rather than any kind of “boo” scares. You really get a textured feel of the mother’s despiration and downward spiral, something that’s not helped by one of the most annoying 6-year-olds you will ever come across. When the wackiness starts happening, you don’t really know if this is all part of a severe mental breakdown, or if the Babadook itself is real…or maybe a combination of both.

The movie works best as an unconventional psychological horror, which really builds things up to a high pressure point…and then the final ten minutes goes into full-on supernatural haunting mode. Sure, it does deflate the previous build-up a bit, but not enough to completely take you out of the movie, really.

Overall, though, this is one of the times where you can really trust the hype behind this being one of the more effective horror movies to come out in recent times. Even with the lights on, it will get to you.

Movie Review: SILENT HILL

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Movie Review: SILENT HILLKonami Corporation
2006
R

“You burned in the fire that you started and nothing can save you because you’re already damned!”

After a rather heart-stopping episode with their adopted daughter’s sleepwalking, a mother decides the best way to help cure the girl is to take her to the abandoned ghost town she keeps mentioning in her dream-state. After getting run off the road outside of Silent Hill, the mother wakes up to find her daughter missing, and a mysterious fog enshrouding the town. And while trying to find her missing child, she discovers that it’s probably best to stay out of the dark…

I love the game this movie is based on. I’ve only played the first one, and only at a friends’ place in Denver quite a few years ago, but it stuck with me. It wasn’t like the Resident Evil type horror games, where there’s a lot of “boo” scares and hideous zombie action going on. SH was more atmospheric in its horror, not to mention sporting a rather complex storyline that I still don’t understand fully, no matter how many times Virg smacked me on the back of the head and explained things to me again…

But enough of me reminiscing about a video game that ultimately left me with a bit of trauma-educed drain bamage…on with the movie version…

As many of you who read my reviews (both of you) may know, I don’t particularly like movies that are adapted from video games. Really, in the great scheme of things, movies that are adapted from video games rank only better than movies based on classic television programs. And not by a wide margin, either. Since viewing that great abomination that was the first Resident Evil movie, I’ve yet to see one that’s worth the price of the rental fee, let alone a movie ticket stub.

Note that I said “I’ve yet to see one that’s worth the price of the rental fee, let alone a movie ticket stub.” See the emphasis I made on “yet to see”? Doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, now does it?

Now, lest you think that your ol’ Uncle NecRo has already passed judgement in the negative to yet another in what appears to be a long line of video games-to-movie train wrecks, let me reassure you that, while Silent Hill is far from perfect, it does merit more in the positives than the negatives.

Close your mouth. You’re attracting flies.

While I admit to entering the theater (packed with many Junior High kids, I might add) not expecting much, I did manage to enjoy Silent Hill on a certain level. To wit…

The atmosphere. Dark, foreboding, creepy, and downright chilling. The fog lent a nice surreal touch to the “daylight”, and the scenes involving the living darkness was something right out of my nightmares. Beautifully and artfully done. The camera angle work was straight out of the video game, and adds to the tone nicely. Good call reproducing that. And the soundtrack…well, let’s just say it’s an industrial / dark ambient fanboy joygasm (there. Used that phrase in two reviews now). I came out of it wanting a copy of the soundtrack. Creepy good stuff. And for toppers, I can’t say enough about including Pyramidhead and those creepy-beyond-creepy nurses. Yeah, they and those freaky child corpses at the beginning are going to haunt my nightmares…bring ’em on…

Now that I got the good stuff out of the way, let me hit you with the bad news. And that is…drumroll please…

…et-hem…

*feedback squelch*

THE ACTING SUCKED! (…UCKED!…UCKED!…UCKED!…UC*)

May seem like a minor thing, especially when compared (on paper…or in this case, a computer monitor) to all the nice things I had to say about it. But, believe me, what appears to be a minor quibble is, in actuality, a major handicap in my overall enjoyment of the film. It’s like all the actors studied the personality traits and subtle nuances of the body movements and voice inflection from the characters in the game itself. Which is to say…well, Stephen Hawking would have given a rousing Oscar-worthy performance over these guys.

But enough bellyaching. Down to brass tacks.

Is Silent Hill a better video-game based horror movie than the other video-game based horror movies? Yes. No doubt. Is it a good horror movie in and of itself? On a certain level, yes it is. If you’re idea of a good horror flick is a slow-burning, creepy and atmospheric without relying on boo scares, and with an ending that doesn’t take the easy route, most definitely (see, many of those teenyboppers in the theater didn’t like said movie because of lack of the “boo”…kids these days. Can’t live with ’em…and you can’t eat ’em…legally…). Is Silent Hill worth the price of a theater ticket? Gonna have to say “no” to that one, I’m afraid. But, really, two out of three ain’t bad, especially given the source material, and the usual track record of movies like this…

Movie Review: The FORGOTTEN

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FORGOTTEN, TheColumbia Pictures
2004
PG-13

“There are worse things than forgetting.”

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that, because the two girls working the matinée time couldn’t get the safe open and had to get some money from the theater across the street at the mall (they’re owned by the same company…the beauty of small town cinema), I and the other three people waiting in line got in for free. No reason, just thought I’d bring it up…

The Forgotten is a movie I really wanted to like. It seemed, from the premise, that it was going to be one of those psychological dark thrillers that I enjoy- A mother (played by the always delicious Julianne Moore) is mourning the death of her 9-year-old son, who apparently died in a tragic plane crash going to some camp (the fact that it was on Quest Airlines should have been a tip-off). Or is she? Over a short period of time, hard facts regarding her son’s very existence inexplicably vanish and people who knew her boy have forgotten about him, including her husband. Is she really suffering a psychotic break due to a mentioned miscarriage? Did she make up her offspring? Is she a couple tacos short of a TexMex combo meal? Or is there some kind of higher force playing with her reality like a drunk kitten? After convincing an alcoholic former hockey star named Ash (played by a charismatic Dominic West) that he, too, once had a daughter (she was a friend of her son, you see, and went down on the same plane), they go out to uncover the truth…all the while being chased by Federal agents, and some mysterious guy who seems to be popping up conspicuously. After about an hour of being chased around, fighting amongst each other, and people being snatched up in the air by some mysterious force, Moore is finally confronted with the truth. And faster than you can say “convoluted plot device”…the movie ends.

First of all, as I mentioned before, I really wanted to like this movie. And, on a certain level, I did. For about the first hour or so, it had a great Hitchcockian feel to the plot- Is she or isn’t she insane? That and the cinematography and bleak score added to the dark feel of the whole thing. Unfortunately, what kept The Forgotten from being an over-all enjoyable ride was the way it inexplicably decided to cop out with the “aliens doing experiments on humans” angle…and for those upset with me now that I’ve spoiled the plot, bite me (and while I’m at it: Rosebud’s a sled, she’s a dude, and Bruce Willis is a ghost…you can e-mail me your hate mail). Really, it’s like the writers of the script couldn’t be brilliant enough to come up with something new to the amnesia bit, so they just stuck it in at the last minute. So, the last hour feels like X-Files Lite…with a weepy Scully and an alcoholic Mulder (Moore: “*sob* The truth is out there, Ash! *sob, weep*” West: *hic* Washat? Zzzzzzzzz…. *hic*”). And to prove that the writers had no idea how to wrap things up, the movie just…ends. Everyone’s returned to their rightful place. Nothing’s amiss. That’s just bad plotting. It’s like if John Saul wrote the thing…

Overall, The Forgotten started off strong, but then ran out of juice halfway in. Not a bad rental on a Saturday night, but as a theatrical viewing, save your $10 bucks, or wait until it’s at a $2 cinema (assuming there’s one in your area…there is here…)…or wait until the teenage help at the theater can’t get the safe open and get in for free…yippy skippy…

Movie Review: The WARD

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The WardWarner Bros. Pictures
2010
R

“If I were you I’d watch out, new girl.”

It’s been ten years since John Carpenter made a movie.  Considering the movie he made then was the underwhelming Ghosts Of Mars, and that most of the 1990s were…less than stellar, really it’s not all that shocking that this legendary film maker took on a bit of a rest.  Go into semi-retirement if not full on retirement.  There were those episodes of the Masters Of Horror series, but I would have understood if he decided he had a good run, and let his classics endure.  But, ten years after essentially making Assault On Precinct 13 In Space with a former Gangsta rapper with “Ice” in his name (the other one, silly), he comes back and releases this small indie psychological thriller.  I’m not complaining.

We come into The Ward in the 1960s, and a teenage girl is burning down a house.  Interesting way of starting things off.  She’s systematically taken to a psychiatric ward that is populated with a small handful of other girls, each holding on to a dark secret.  While going through psychiatric therapies, the mystery surrounding the ward deepens as a ghostly apparition of a former patient appears, and the residents begin disappearing in violent ways.  Can any of the girls survive and put a stop to this ghost?  Or will there be a convoluted plot twist that most viewers will guess halfway through the movie?

Oh, quit your complaining. Regardless whether or not I just “spoiled” things for you, The Ward is still a nice, stylish and atmospheric piece that works as a period piece, ghost story, psychological thrill and mystery. As a John Carpenter movie, The Ward ranks up there with In The Mouth Of Madness and the Masters Of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns” as good modern pieces.  I wouldn’t say “instant classic”, as there are other movies of this type that have done this better.  However, when compared to its contemporary, namely Sucker Punch, The Ward is clearly the superior offering.  Subtle in its delivery, great atmospherics, good photography and music score, great acting and such.  About the only real complaint I have is the very last shot of the movie.  Saw that one coming too.

While I hasten to say, “return to form for Mr. Carpenter!”, The Ward proves he still has some bloody good yarns to spin.  Recommended watching.

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