Monday, October 31, 2011

The Horde (2009)

Power tripping humans face a horde of zombies

This French action/horror movie doesn't waste time with an overly complex plot. A group of cops want revenge for the murder of one of their men. With ski masks and guns in hand, they head over to an apartment complex at night where the Nigerian leader and his thugs that downed one of their own have their small criminal headquarters. Immediately the plan goes wrong and the cops have a few more holes in them than they did before entering the building. Soon enough flesh eating zombies with speed, strength and a building horde behind them jump into the mix and the guns get instead pointed at their new enemy with the cops and criminals forming a tentative alliance.

At times the tension and dramatic moments are overplayed but a share of them do make this more charging than other zombie films that feel tired. The specific rules are only loosely stated, which makes this a little more chaotic, unpredictable and more bloody as the zombies take on more wounds than they have to. The characters have to not only make it down and out of the building, which might be overrun and without hope, but also have to constantly break up arguments between each other for what's the next move. The performances usually involve posturing antics and yelling as everyone wants to be a leader, along with some confusion and anxiety from both situations taking their toll. They meet an eccentric older man who wields an ax and has some kind of post traumatic stress from war that makes him think people are turning into Asians rather than zombies. It gives this a kind of quirky charm amongst all of the seriousness that nearly turns melodramatic in certain scenes.

This not only has action and violence to keep the audience busy, it's able to maintain a steady momentum and keep the events charged despite being an incredibly basic horror story. It's more gritty and natural than stylish and symmetrically lined up. There are jarring sound effects, such as loud gun shots and roaring zombie noises, along with quick edits that help make the experience more impactful and energetic when need be. The zombies themselves aren't always shown in abundance, that way to portray them as uncertain for their next move. There's some gun blazing as well as hand to hand combat with the zombies that brings out some bloody scenes that cause a share of the walls to drip with red remnants. The old building plays to the advantage of the horror angle with deteriorated decor and furnishings, along with dim lighting and abandoned passageways that could be hiding anything in the hungry dark.

This has a somewhat cold tone compared to other films in the subgenre where the zombies seem to bring out the sadists in the characters at a few points the way they want to injure and maim rather than doing it out of pure survival. There's a message somewhere in there to show those who break the rules have no honor or to show the conflicts aren't always solvable between humans in our modern state if a situation did arise as such. This shifts back and forth with if humans should fight for themselves, stick together like a family or go on a power trip to control another person. The final outcome hits somewhat anticlimactically or just as a set up for another film. "The Horde" doesn't deliver anything brand new. Though it has a tried and true formula that still works because there's a balance between the human interaction as well as the zombie, not to mention some memorable scenes that make this returnable. In a way, it almost feels like an engaging videogame at points that's instead played for you due to the simplicity and sense for uncomplicated interaction.

Rating: 7/10

Director: Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher
Link: IMDB

Neighbor (2009)

What are neighbors for?

This is a low budget film with a paper thin story about a woman who goes around torturing and killing people without the slightest hint of remorse, her background, who she is, why she's doing it or if she'll ever get caught. The recent "Open House" went for something similar by showing full close ups of the characters but still keeping the audience in the dark for a loss of control, though this is going to be less subtle at times and much more bloody and direct than the mentioned. I'm sure they did it that way to make someone uncomfortable from the fact that she could anyone or anywhere because she'd easily fit into a crowd. However, the film is to the point of being vague enough to make it look too random and unconnective due to never stepping out of the silhouette of a movie character instead of the real deal.

Without even beating around the bush, an attractive woman is shown in another person's home doing ugly things by torturing two tied up victims for her own sadistic pleasure. Meanwhile a man named Don is shown with some unimportant banter between his friends that go about their typical twenty-something lives with drinking, women and music on their minds. Meanwhile the cruel woman is getting closer and closer to their final meet-up: call that destiny or just plain bad luck. Soon enough just knowing Don is a death sentence when his friends and potential girlfriends enter his house at their own risk when they're lured in. And that's essentially it, with some distractions, such as different ways people go about finding relationships and getting a final mix of one of their band's albums.

"Neighbor" tries to be both disturbing and have a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor with puns and stabs at other films to keep the audience busy, though both tones don't always go smoothly together here. The dialogue and performances aren't charismatic or affecting enough to want to wait in a bank line next to them, never mind knowing the character's general lives. If you watched the death scenes and fast forwarded the rest you wouldn't have missed much of anything important or significant. The score plays more on if this was a mystery with odd melodies that appear to be building up to something despite what's being shown as point blank.

There's zero message, nothing to read between the lines or to learn or advance from this. The relating fear only carries it so far. Hey, I go to bars, I like pretty women, I own a house, I know a Don...maybe I'm next? She looks and does everything the opposite you'd imagine a psychotic serial killer would do with the exception of the murder part, of course. She's overly charming, does various modes of violence with a smile and talks about sadistic deeds as if it's a day of shopping at the mall at her favorite store. There's no hidden sides that come out to show a dual personality except with an attempt at a half-hearted accusatory scene between her and a tied up Don. The only refreshing part about not making her an archetype would be that she's easier on the eyes than staring at a pencil thin guy who can barely hold up the specs on his face. That or an out of shape weirdo who's got three unguessable stains on his shirt, all of which are probably from breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This does deliver in the violence department. Though getting a true feeling or emotion out of this falls short and is reduced to just a momentary shock. For a low budget film this does have some effective looking gore effects come up, which would make for a nice compilation if you could cut out all of the filler in between because it doesn't serve much of a purpose anyway. As a slasher film, it's the equivalent of a porno with a half attempt at a script: I'd imagine for people who don't want a complicated story but only the goods. But why even try? Just make a short--a nasty, unrelenting short--and you've got my vote because there would be no clutter.

The movie feels so far fetched from the opening scene that it just keeps on piling on the hokiness then after to get conflicting as to which direction the audience is supposed to lean: to take it seriously or not or somewhere in between? The torture scenes don't always jump across the screen as they should in a fearful horror sense--even the behind the scenes shots show the crew with big grins and nervous or humorous laughter--since they're treated in a desensitized way from the starting point. Some are nasty, I'll give it that with various household supplies that you could easily find laying about yours. You can count on what's going to happen: woman hangs around someone, they're going to be tricked, get tortured and die. She's unstoppable, so it's a one-way street of carnage that only lets up when she's thinking of new ways to go about it. Believing that there's a person out there like this wouldn't be too from thinking Big Foot roams about.

Rating: 3/10

From Black to Red recommends instead: "Grotesque." This is another torture film with a paper thin story line--even more so--but is capable of steadily bringing the experience to new heights as it moves along.

Director: Robert A. Masciantonio (Cold Hearts)
Stars: America Olivo, Christian Campbell
Link: IMDB

Splice (2009)

A humanoid with caretakers from hell

This type of story has no doubt been done before where someone, usually raving mad, messes with science for personal reasons by stepping under the red tape and avoiding public consensus. To think someone could do this right under people's noses brings out fear from assuming things are in control and order behind the scenes. Though this Canadian production from the director of "Cube" and "Cypher" attempts to take more of a drama angle in the way events slowly pack on more weight until the thin house of cards it was using as a structure to begin with not surprisingly starts to topple over.

These type of tales never go the way they're supposed to or have rainbows after the thunderstorms but I guess that's the message: evolution has a natural process and when jumping too far ahead our ability to contain it is never matched by the strength of our ambition from the outset. It's supposed to be a downward spiral of events as it's an idea that doesn't work from the start. It's obvious to everyone but the characters. By the time they realize it themselves, the audience has already been there and back again, which can come with some predictibility. Going with that, the film isn't always thrilling or exciting for that matter but more of a learning lesson on both sides of the screen: a long winded and gradual one to show their missteps and let the audience decide where their own morals lay. Entertainment value wise, this is more of an eye opener than an amusing theatrical experience that would lend feeling to our surface senses like the typical high budget summer flick.

A lab combined DNA from a variety of species to create a new organism. They're on their way to tweak with humans and create a cure for all kinds of diseases, when the pharmaceutical company they work for dodges public scorn before it becomes an issue and instead wants to use their research for a lesser means with a livestock protein. The lead biochemists, Elsa and Clive, who are also a couple outside of work, want to put the question to rest while they have the means and do their own private experiment with female human DNA combined with other species. From what looks a fluke, turns out to be a rapidly evolving species of its own kind. With risk of being found out, they have to hide the growing being, now known as Dren, but only keep on having complications along the way that can not only jeopardize their careers but their personal lives.

This isn't a horror or thriller, except for the final 10 minutes when the double helix's really hit the fan. For the majority, this plays out as a drama/science fiction story where the new organism puts up a divide between their relationship as a couple as well as their job that comes with a few hitches as a result of their growing distraction. Some transitions aren't always shown or explained, such as why they end up switching roles, from cold and distant to caring and understanding, to the other taking on the reversed traits as more time goes on. Yet, there are massive screw ups on both their parts as neither one has the strength to fully stop it despite many opportunities. This goes through different stages as the scientists discover something that has never been done before: enthusiasm, moral choices, sympathy, curiosity, frustration to true horror. The level of misunderstanding and mistreatment by the time it closes is going to make a few uneasy to say the least.

"Splice" doesn't always step out of the initial concept stage. The characters are posed with a problem and impulsively jump right into a solution for lack of better reasons or an end goal in sight despite being scientists for a living, having a career that took time and sacrifice, and then other employees to look after who have families and lives of their own. Selfish, not to mention incredibly short sighted for being supposedly analytical persons by trade? Should be a new word for it here. To make it more of an exceptional case these aren't normal individuals, but still, a share of the connectors that would make one suspend their disbelief are missing or glazed right over despite the gradual pacing. They work in a large corporation with millions of dollars on the line and easily slip through the cracks at first by working their highly illegal and unpredictable experiments in an adjacent room without security or superiors finding out. I mean, I've heard of trust, but this doesn't chime with the way the higher ups acted to begin with by shutting out their ideas like a typical corporation mentality but then at the same time completely letting them be in another sense.

There is supposed to be a hush-hush risk here but it doesn't always feel that way. Damaged equipment, no inventories conducted or janitorial employees and then the lead people going off on their own with little question for some time. There's the moral angle and the potential of such a thing being conceived but that doesn't always carry this along or is engrossing enough to keep the mind from wandering into other areas that don't line up. New abilities show up and some accidents happen with Dren but this mainly concentrates on Elsa and Clive and their reactions to it all. This has some revelations come out but the way the pacing moves along makes it lose its knock-me-over impact. This tries to cover up its inconsistencies with a line here and there pointing it out themselves but after a number of them happening, it makes it feel more like they're sweeping it under the rug with excuses in hopes you'll go along. Decent story, just requires the audience to compensate for too many areas of its outline.

Rating: 6/10

Director: Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher, Nothing)
Stars: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Link: IMDB

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pandorum (2009)

Where the future reverts back to our past

This is a tale of extreme survival in the distant future for what's possibly to come when over population hits. "Pandorum" is a splice between something like "Planet of the Apes" and "The Descent" with the state of evolution with humans mixed with "The Shining" and "Event Horizon" with the horrors that can happen in an inescapable enclosed area and how the mind can get mixed up. This was actually produced by director Paul W.S. Anderson of "Event Horizon," which I believe is his best film to date. This feels like an apocalyptic future on a ship, where resources are even slimmer than they would be on an impoverished Earth. It uses the uncomfortableness and shock of the horror genre and the speed and physicalities from action to accelerate the story. There's also an element of mystery as the characters are thrown mid-stream into an unknown situation that they have to manage to stay afloat till the deadly pull is over or they can find the shore with solid footing.

It's the year 2174 and the population has grown to such a degree that food and water is scarce. On a ship called Elysium, a man wakes up in a hypersleep chamber with no memory of who he is except the name Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) on the outside glass. Another man with Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) printed wakes up an hour later and together they try and figure out where everyone else is and what they're doing there. Payton stays in the control center and directs the younger man through the corridors. Bower runs into strange alien looking beings with warrior strength who are trying to kill and eat him. He encounters other humans who treat their dire situation as an every man for himself one. He teams up with a buff, English-less Vietnamese man (Cung Le) who was in the agriculture department and a fierce German woman (Antje Traue) who is protecting the specimens for the planet they were headed to called Tanis that's supposed to be like Earth. Bower has to fix the reactor of the ship that is causing power surges or else they'll get cut off in what could be the middle of space. Meanwhile Payton runs into another man named Gallo (Cam Gigandet) who was part of an earlier team and claims the others went through "Pandorum": a rare condition that makes someone with a tendency for a psychological disorder snap from paranoia due to a side effect of being in deep space.

The movie has an onrushing charge that still manages to take a breather to explain its backstory in steady increments that lead up to a building culmination. The characters run, hide and fight to get through the ship with traps and nests waiting in their way. People aren't who they say they are, things aren't what they seem and some revelations and twists are in store. The performances are more with physicalities and facial expression than with line delivery and the dramatic. With the exception of Payton and Gallo's back and forth banter about making rash decisions, emotions are usually suppressed due to the harsh environment. Though the story and sets act like anchors in this regard to brace the development of the characters and how they interact. There are some grisly scenes when it comes to violence. Some of the fights are choreographed like a martial arts film with high jumps and ferocious kicks and punches, along with makeshift barbaric weapons that cruelly sink into flesh as if this reverted back to the caveman days. The sets are filthy and unkempt, almost like an industrial factory with metal structures and the remnants of everything vile that has crept through. There are some worked up scenes that play on anticipation and the discomfort of it all, such as an incredibly claustrophobic scene where Bower has to crawl through tight spaces with no clue where he's going, little air and no way to turn around. "Pandorum" shows what we're capable of becoming as human beings when adapting to a new situation outside of our normal environment--backstabbers, cannibals, crazed--just taken to the hilt due the unique set of circumstances the film suggests: when space brings out our primal tendencies instead of progress.

Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Christian Alvart (Antibodies, Case 39)
Stars: Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, Antje Traue, Cung Le, Cam Gigandet
Link: IMDB

Event Horizon (1997)

The blackness of space

This threw some viewers off when it came out. To set it straight, this is horror first and then an action film that uses science fiction only to set up its diabolical premise. Nothing here projects a utopian society with social commentary or to show progress with science. This is essentially a haunted house like movie except on a space ship in the slightly distant future. All the more reason for not being able to escape the dwelling due to the inside being just as terrifying as the outside. The movie tends to creep up not only on its characters but its audience as well. I mean, a ship displaying supernatural occurrences the moment the crew steps foot on would have most likely made them turn around. It makes sense that there will be pop out scares and random occurrences to make them second guess themselves until it's too late. The horror is psychological in that the characters can't trust their own senses, which are being toyed and manipulated with by a much more devilish force than you can imagine. Instead of making the future a better place, it makes the idea of space exploration about as dangerous as walking down an unknown alleyway in an unfamiliar neighborhood where a presence is lurking in the dark that knows your next moves better than you do.

A crew for the U.S.A.C. is sent out for a search and rescue operation in the year of 2047 near Neptune. A share are of the foul mouthed, joking military kind except with a stern commander named Miller (Laurence Fishburne) to make sure everything goes in order. On board is a guest named Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) who explains that what they're after is the thought to be lost deep space research vessel called "Event Horizon." Seven years ago it was used as a secret government experiment to prove that a vessel can travel faster than light with a gravity drive; essentially it creates a black hole to fold space to get from point A to point B quicker to cut down time on future space travel to reach the stars and beyond. After a seemingly innocent accident, their own ship gets damaged and they have to all board Event Horizon for the meantime. If they don't fix their own ship in time their resources will run out in the remote area of space...but that might not be all that can get them. The crew begins to let their emotions fly and not have each other's best interests in mind. The characters seem like archetypes at first for their specific jobs, though as it moves on the ship has a way of extracting hidden secrets that include their worst fears and nightmares from their past with what seems to be life like hallucinations. The more they find out about the empty Event Horizon, the more their mind wanders into the possibilities of just where the past crew went missing to and where they themselves are headed next.

After setting up its premise, this is a rapidly paced movie that doesn't always get time to truly get inside each of its characters or give them all the depth they deserve which can make it lean a little on the simpler popcorn entertainment side--some one-liners tacked on as well. Though in another regard they display terrified and anxiety ridden reactions for such an incredulous predicament they found themselves in to make it more relating for the audience if they'd potentially do the same. It makes you wonder how much further it could have been taken if it wasn't cut down to make it an R rated film from originally getting NC-17. At times the story is somewhat basic where they move from one place to the next and back again but still with a share of memorable and now classic scenes in between. "Event Horizon" was capable of fully fleshing out its underlying concept as it had the luxury of a high budget with a share of panning shots and amply built sets with unique designs of both the physical and CGI kind.

The gravity drive room is something to really behold with three large rings closely rotating a sinister looking sphere. The orchestral music can go from deep and bombastic build ups to high pitched and racy as if it was scored for a heart-racing thriller instead. The beginning section has some kind of electronic music combination that seems in contrast to the picture but probably purposely so for what's to come. There are some grisly, cruel and downright evil prosthetic effects that are occasionally blended with CG. I seen this film when it came to theaters and still have some of them stuck in my head. The sets are typically cold and gray, with a utilitarian metal design in some regard and grand and futuristic in scope in others. It manages to give this a futuristic hint but not so far distanced that the cold and downcast atmosphere doesn't get through to chill one's bones in the present time.

Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Paul Anderson (Shopping, Mortal Kombat)
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Richard T. Jones, Kathleen Quinlan, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Joely Richardson
Link: IMDB

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

A bank robber has nothing on a gypsy

"The Evil Dead" series filmmakers return with a long awaited horror feature that includes some throwback hints to older, more basic horror/thrillers, though with some modern touches such as frequent use of CGI and the convenience of cell phones. "Drag Me to Hell" still feels its own movie than just a token homage film. It's a PG-13 feature in its theatrical run that dodges sex and gore and replaces it with built up shocks combined with a gross out factor that's enough to make one buy mouth rinse afterwards due to all the nasty things landing in the lead actress's mouth. This skirts the edges of an almost whimsical tone between seriousness and tongue-in-cheek humor similar to Raimi's earlier pictures that makes the atmosphere both fun and frightening. It's nearly popcorn entertainment all the way through except with a few of life's little road blocks to make the story more relating and personable.

Some 40 years ago in California, a Spanish boy stole a necklace from a gypsy and is being followed by a spirit. His parents bring him to a young psychic who gets defeated by what turns out to be a powerful demon. In the present day, a young and upstarting career woman with a tubby, tom boy past now handles loans at a bank and is competing with a co-worker for a higher position. In an attempt to become a go-getter, Christine turns down an extension for an elderly woman with an east European accent named Sylvia Ganush. Ganush is shamed and wants payback in the form of attacking Christine in a woman vs woman parking garage rumble that leaves the younger one laying on the concrete dazed and with a wrecked car to show for it. Soon afterwards Christine feels she is being followed by something unexplainable after some mysterious words were spoken by Ganush over a personal item of hers and she seeks out help in the form of a new age psychic to her practical boyfriend Clay's protests. Christine tries to get her life back in order with Clay now warming up but can't explain the random occurrences that come in the form of hallucinations and haunting nightmares. This is a curse that gradually builds up and torments the person, only to consume their soul unless something is done about it...but at what sacrifice?

"Drag Me to Hell" is a story about the damning of an innocent young woman who has to prove she has spirit in her to stay afloat above the ordeal with the supernatural element as well as with the human interaction in her day to day life. She doesn't exactly deserve it but it goes to show it can happen even to the nicest of us. The message being: once you play with fire, you best be ready to take the heat that follows. This did well by incorporating elements for both the believer and non-believer of the uncanny: coincidence in some areas, to outright show-and-tell in others. The story itself isn't the most original but the experience on the other hand unfolds with a share of memorable and inventive scenarios that are over-the-top enough at times to make this more movie than actuality but still engrossing nonetheless. Some of the moments of seriousness and humor clash at times to be almost cartoonish in contrast, though a large share of this was spot on and managed to still have a sinister atmosphere during certain scenes while at it. Think of something along the lines of "The Frighteners" but still not the exactly the same.

The lead actress, Alison Lohman, manages to keep up with the flow of the script that calls for both the gentle and courageous. Not to mention she also takes a beating in some areas like something you'd see on "Fear Factor." Lorna Raver made the movie as the elderly gypsy villain who you'd rather see hit by a car than help her across the street. The facial expressions she does that contort her already hideous mug gives this film an iconic symbol to remember in the back of your mind. The music unfolds with traditional strings that come with some melancholic melodies mixed with grating high notes to translate the uncomfortable creep-ups and sudden shock. The wind and shadows become another character here the way they animate the walls, floors and ceilings to give that trapped feeling that's at every turn.

Rating: 7.5/10

Director: Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Darkman, Spider-Man)
Stars: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Link: IMDB

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Damned by Dawn (2009)

Having a wicked time with grandma

This low-budget Australian horror plays on the legend of the Banshee, combined with evil ghosts and your loved ones coming back as the living dead. The story is incredibly simplistic as this plays more so on a steady mood and the survival horror genre with characters running back and forth in the midst of spooky settings to save their lives.

A woman named Claire is visiting her family with her boyfriend Paul at her family's farm house. The place is filled with shrouding fog, naked trees, playful shadows and thunder storms on the rise. A spirit is seen roaming the forest when Paul picks up take out food but like everyone else is oblivious to the ominous signs and doesn't trust his own eyes. Her grandmother, Dawn, is on her death bed and they speak about the mysterious vase Claire was entrusted with but she doesn't make sense of it at the time; her Nana's ambiguity is the catalyst for the events and Claire has to clean up the mess due to her senility--not exactly the most effective transitional mode to perpetuate the story. Before bed there is a mysterious screaming sound coming from afar. Some of the family goes out to investigate and soon enough the piercing sounds are identified as coming from a tattered clothed woman with bleeding eyes and a supernatural aura that allows her to float--the Banshee herself. Soon enough the dead start to rise from the earth to take the family members lives one by one.

The major strength of this film is its atmosphere and settings and honestly not much else. A share of this looks to be some kind of dreamscape in that it has its own altered reality. The movie is persistent to the point where it makes it seem like an hour and twenty minute thrill ride with exaggerated jumps, scares and loud noises to jar your senses. Likewise, it doesn't have substance but it does play on surface sensations. Though the actual underlying story and character archetypes after awhile start to feel paper thin and to lose intrigue despite the constant mood--that's usually why those rides last less than twenty minutes. After a while, the situations feel more like random events in a Halloween haunted house than part of a linear storyline where the characters walk and run around not knowing which angle they're going to have a fright from or what to do for that matter themselves. Their actions are simple: run, trip, explore and when lucky shoot with a rifle. This has some breaks where the characters charge themselves and try to figure it out: some moments work well with anticipation, while others feel like they're stretching out the time with filler.

"Damned by Dawn" includes the standard survival movie template: the most capable character perseveres as those around her die until she can figure out how to stop the antagonist. Though instead of having some kind of intuition to make her someone to carry the picture with staying power like, say, "The Evil Dead," which this takes influence from, she appears to get lucky and without always getting a solid footing on the ground. The CGI monsters are about as dated looking as a '90s Playstation video game, though to its benefit are often covered up by the excessive use of fog; it's to the point where it makes the pool halls of "The Hustler" look like breathable air. Some of the other effects are effective and by contrast it makes these noticeably distracting. The dead come in a few forms: flying skeletons, grim reapers, zombies. Their mechanics are inconsistent in that they move quickly at some points and then at others, when the characters are wide open, start to creep as if they suddenly forgot that they can actually speed along. The dialogue and performances are hit and miss. In the calmer scenes they hold their own, though when some of the action picks up it's as if they're speaking from the script instead of becoming a personality in their self. Makes you wish they would have kept a few lines to themselves but then instead spoke up to fill the audience in better about some parts to its conclusion. Recommended only for someone who wants a simple supernatural horror to completely shut off their brain with and let themselves go with mood.

Rating: 4/10

Director: Brett Anstey
Link: IMDB

The Bleeding (2009)

Title refers to viewer's eyes

A big, bald, bad-accented man named Shawn Black escapes from a hospital with revenge on his mind. In his Shelby Cobra--blatant advertising of the car commercial kind--he searches for clues as to what happened to his brother who was a solider that went M.I.A. He takes out a gang of thugs only to find a man named Tagg who tells him about vampires. He explains that a king is born every 100-200 years from the soul of an esteemed warrior who died in combat. This select person will lead a troupe to devour and decimate humankind. The current king is Cain who was also last seen in Afghanistan where Black's brother was. Another chosen person known as a slayer--who happens to be Black--is destined to fight the king in an epic battle of good vs evil. Black meets a Father Roy who breaks every other rule in the good book. They partner up along with his side kick Crash to stop Cain and his neck-bitting cronies who've overtaken a town. A woman named Lena and her friend Jenny cross Black's path at Club Mortem: the place Cain uses to recruit other vampires and where a big showdown is going to ensue.

If you thought "Blade" was a little too modernized, fashionable or just exaggerated, then "The Bleeding" is going to be your worst enemy. This also shuffles around vampire mythology where blood suckers can walk by the day, get killed by silver bullets and are also taken out when you destroy their coffin. The movie tries to slap together too many styles at once without giving a chance to concentrate on a single one. At some points it gives this a quick pacing but makes it hard to take it seriously and at times comes across as unintentionally humorous. This is more action than horror, so there's going to a share of shoot outs and hand to hand combat rather than scares. This makes shows like "V.I.P." and "Walker, Texas Ranger" look polished. The lead actor Michael Matthias seems to be all look and no pay out. His lines come off as so neutral and passionless as to think he's in the wrong film if it weren't for his muscles.

The script and on top of that the direction and editing are terrible--there's no sense getting witty about it. The character motivations are all over the place. At times the dialogue doesn't even seem to check what it's saying, "A couple of years ago, back in 1982." So, 27 years ago is a couple of years ago? The actors go from over doing emotions to under doing another at the next moment. The storyline goes from being in-your-face obvious to vague and nonsensical. The lazy narration over top by the main character makes him sound like he's explaining it to someone who is slow on the upkeep, including what sounds like himself. There are flashbacks to remind you of a prior scene as if you weren't paying attention. It feels like an adult movie told to an adolescent, which robs the film of rewards for the audience. How can you possibly think this flick is cool when its mentality dumbs itself down? Random characters appear out of nowhere with no explanation as to how they got there. It makes them seem penciled in at the last moment without care or refinement. The transitions are incredibly jumpy at times, as if you can clearly see they filmed it at different points, not to mention some scenes are over emphasized for no significant reason, as if you think they're building up to something but to no avail. What's surprising is some of the people involved have been in the business a while, including the director, not to mention actors Armand Assante--who plays a bit part as a cop in the beginning--and Michael Madsen as the rule-breaking priest.

"The Bleeding" attempts to be purposely campy and like something of a live action comic book but has trouble at times from tripping over its own feet in the process to make the joke instead turn around on them. It has a share of cliches and pokes fun at a few while at it. But, man, I can take some purposely trashy pictures, such as some Troma and Herschell Gordon Lewis films, for instance, but there's a point where the audience seems to come second here. Either they're having too much fun to check back or don't care to even take the viewers seriously--I'm leaning towards the latter. Who are they hoping to sell this to? Or should I say sucker into this. This does have some amusing scenarios come and go but unfortunately with entertainment in all the wrong places.

Rating: 1/10

From Black to Red recommends instead: "From Dusk Till Dawn": This is part action film/vampire flick that is able to balance campiness, keep a steady measurement and be simultaneously entertaining while at it.

Director: Charlie Picerni
Stars: Michael Matthias, Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Katherine von Drachenberg, Rachelle Leah, Armand Assante, DMX
Link: IMDB

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Caller (2011)

A magnet for disaster

This is a drama/mystery/thriller about a woman named Mary (Rachelle Lefevre) who moves into a new apartment in the capital of Puerto Rico and is trying to start her new life over again after finalizing paper work from a controlling partner. Though the tiny island might not be the best place to make that happen. She goes to classes, talks to the friendly gardener George (Luis Guzman) and converses on an old land line phone--remember those?--with a woman named Rose (Lorna Raver) who's confused and looking for a man named Bobby.

The calls become more persistent and personal with the coincidences between them mounting up. Each woman thinks the other loco but try to find a middle ground for information that makes them at odds for the time line they share since Rose thinks she's in the late '70s. Rose tries to show she exists by describing evidence around the house to prove to Mary she's been there. Meanwhile other people demand attention from the curly haired blue-eyed wonder with her ex Steven (Ed Quinn) who's stalking her despite a restraining order. She manages to form a budding friendship with a teacher named John (Stephen Moyer) at the school from getting jumpy about supposedly seeing someone in her car. The audience isn't sure of the big picture at first and this just looks like a woman with the worst of luck. Though her new situation might just give her the know how and empowerment she needs to see a light at the other end of the tunnel...or possibly just a darker side of herself to do what needs to be done.

The viewer is thrown some distractions with the goings on in Mary's life, but the one with the greatest power to control it comes and goes. The pacing moves gradually to give the story some time to grow and to put together what's culminating. This could have played the is-she-imagining it, is-she-not angle a little better. Sometimes not so obvious clues happen and she believes, while other times, obvious things happen and she's oblivious. People are there one moment, gone the next and every time Mary tries to get her life back in order, she gets knocked back a few steps until the main realization fully sets in. What holds this back is the audience at points is given too much time to think of the possibilities, which for the cinematic experience expands your imagination no doubt and was definitely a neat idea but how the mechanics line up leaves some loopholes. Not to mention when some red herrings come her way to throw you off scent, as well as a series of what if questions happen at the same time that make this go from an exceptional case to astronomical, though amusing nonetheless even if it's not likely to happen to you.

The character development is a little bumpy in that the main actress will go from calm and rational to jumpy and terrified, sometimes with back to back scenes that make pinning down her demeanor and temperament a little inconsistent for relating points. The abusive and manipulative character Steven seems like a caricature ripped right out of an old Lifetime movie--don't ask how I know that--the way he does what he wants and especially when he wants because he's a testosterone fueled man with no one to put him in his place--he's just missing a flannel and a permanent beer in one hand. The setting in Puerto Rico is partly utilized though isn't concentrated on unless it pertains to the story. Nearly all of the characters are from different nationalities, much like the commonwealth's own history. On the other hand--like Mario Bava's ''The Telephone"--the phone ringing becomes a grating echo in your ear for both the intruding sound and for what's to come. The woman on the other end has a sweet but also disturbing voice that starts to become more and more desperate and dangerous and might not have been calling the wrong number after all.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Matthew Parkhill (Dot the I)
Stars: Rachelle Lefevre, Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzman, Ed Quinn, Lorna Raver
Link: IMDB

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Presence (2010)

Negative vibes

A woman (Mira Sorvino) arrives at an isolated cabin in the woods that at first brings back a sense of nostalgia. Without the filmmakers beating around the bush, there's a grumpy ghost (Shane West) already there who she can't see with bags under his eyes and a I'm-two-steps-from-murdering-you posture. She's using the time to be in peace and left alone while she writes something that's never divulged. The two make a team of perfect loners as the presence stands and sits about doing repetitive routines but starts to get curious about this woman who is now invading his solitude. She finds a newspaper clipping laying about that states that someone had died in that area with a criminal background, but likewise that's not gone into as the story concentrates on them primarily in the now without muddling it up with flashbacks.

"The Presence" is divided with the two main characters, with the woman taking a share of the story for the beginning half, the ghost joining up after that for his story and then both threads being combined into one similar interest by the time it closes. The movie is incredibly basic, to the point of not always carrying an identifiable genre template that would stick out at you. Neither does it come with a definite style--it's unpretentious to a fault, in that it's not always capable of penetrating through or giving more than a minor tug to reel you in. Some of the mentioned might not always be an issue, but the problem is it feels like a story teller that doesn't care if people walk off or stay, in that it's going to tell it in its own unhurried, one-moment-at-a-time way. Even some of the camera setups are still shots with the characters doing the moving and without always pulling away or panning around--it's up to the audience for what they want to see and where one's eyes want to rove. The film has an incredible amount of breathing room. No one wants a picture to scream at them and be obvious or to force emotions out of you. But this doesn't always even try and be persuasive to what it's showing you. The problem is with the beginning half, neither the drama nor the ghost element seems exceptional--only being built up to make sense later. There's a small mystery element and there's some shots to project an isolated mood but there's not a whole lot to ponder on at this point unless it's coming from your behalf, which can make a first time viewer lost to its subtext at first.

Her boyfriend (Justin Kirk) makes an unannounced visit against his girlfriend's wishes and neither does the ghost like the extra attention and competition from the third wheel. She gives in momentarily, making this go from loving vacation time to melodramatic fights that show her true colors. She has random fits: from nice and reasonable to cold and spiteful. She needs her alone time and pushes away from men getting too close from a past event that her boyfriend makes every attempt to understand. Somewhere around the half way mark interest sparks when this moves away from every day activities and squabbles when a second apparition (Tony Curran) appears with an amoral outlook and a certain sly charm that makes him seem more a counterpart of the devil than a lost spirit looking for his way.

"The Presence" is a movie that deals with trusting others after someone else manipulated or used you in the past. There's a supernatural element used--only for the sake of moving the narrative along in a unique way rather than to fright--but this still has dual meaning in that it's also about letting bad choices into your life when you feel sorry for yourself or letting negative thoughts ferment and get the best of you. The movie isn't overly complicated if one manages to focus on the words and what's shown, or even overly ambitious and doesn't seem forced--the characters represent specific elements to the story with the most range coming from the woman. There's some potential here that some can relate to possibly on a spiritual level, just the film misses out on attempting to draw in its audience--as if by selling the story to someone else it would dumb it down to a salable product instead of an art form; I'm not sure the reasoning behind it but that's my guess--though I can guarantee it's going to cause a share of people to shut this off before giving it a chance.

I personally like the latter half, but it loses replay value working up to that point again. It feels like a two hour run time when it clocks in at only an hour and twenty minutes. Even the music seems to hang back at times by coming in with loud volume as if someone's playing with the mute button or has a form of narcolepsy the way it bursts into action and then is silent. I don't think this film's intention was to be overly scary or creepy, for one by shooting their ghost in excess, to the point of getting used to him being there. Not to mention this uses real people as ghosts instead of CGI, which I only counted for a single effect. On the other hand, the issue is he's shown too much and without much to do at first, causing him to become predictable to the point of poking fun every time you can count on him appearing with the same face and pose. "Hey, who killed the Abercrombie model and turned him into furniture," or the most obvious, "This guy'll beat out anyone in a staring contest...probably because he doesn't have to eat, sleep...." Only recommended for the patient of the patient.

Rating: 4.5/10

Director: Tom Provost
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Shane West, Justin Kirk, Tony Curran
Link: IMDB

Altitude (2010)

Giving more reasons to stay out of the clouds

Five are about to embark on a short plane trip in a twin engine to a concert in Montreal. There's a share of joking at first--which acts something like foreshadowing for what's to come--about their departure and how some have pasts related to traveling in planes. Their confident pilot--Sara: the daughter of a Colonel--bands the rowdy group together and off they go. In the air the resident party animal/jock along with the neighborhood musician chides everyone on, while the beer-in-one-hand jock's girlfriend films with her camera and the new shy guy named Bruce--who's friends with Sara and has got a special comic he just bought--gets the brunt of it. Some rough weather is up ahead and Sara decides to climb over top since the small plane isn't equipped for the turbulence. The elevator switch becomes jammed, along with the instruments and communications, and they're headed right for terrible storm clouds with their prior jokes turning over to grave matters. All that loss of control and feeling of being trapped is capitalized here, along with other dark elements--some uncanny, some human--thrown out of left field to make flying in the skies even more nerve wrecking.

These aren't exactly the people you'd want to go through a mounting disaster with, with the exception of the pilot who holds her senses together with reason and rationale despite getting emotional at times as well. The others are trouble before they even set off, which makes the tension a little exaggerated and possibly annoying at times but still mostly effective at driving interaction between the players in the claustrophobic space and without the ground in sight. They all get disoriented and tempers start to flair, along with some hidden revelations come out about their relationships with one another due to the stressful circumstances. They have to come up with game plans if they want to survive. Some can't be trusted that they have the best interests of the group in mind. Some either hallucinate, are intoxicated or affected by an oxygen depravation. This is definitely a varied movie as the tone of the picture transitions from thriller and survival in the air to mystery, science fiction and dark fantasy genres--and then if that wasn't enough potentially romance--when some of the controls and their location can't be explained by logic or rational reasons. Some theories arise as to what it all means but then is put to rest when a final culmination wraps up drastically different from the way it started out, though refreshingly so. It might leave a dividing point between some viewers who expected one thing and got another, and is possibly more catered to the lover of films in general than a specific genre freak.

This was a surprise. The effects were decent enough for the budget with a blend of models and CGI--helped by the dark shadows and storming clouds to cover up any sharp contrasts. "Altitude" is not just a straight forward situation-gone-wrong type of movie but one that also deals with overcoming fear, rejection, insecurities and the dangers of the world on the ground and in the air. There's some reward for watching this instead of going for an entirely bleak conclusion that many horror films do--which I can't say this belongs with two feet in the genre. This is left somewhat open to interpretation of its fantasy mechanics--think along the lines of old EC comics or "Twilight Zone"--which also includes areas of inconsistences, though it still causes the imagination to open up to the possibilities, and like those fill in some of the blanks for yourself. The pacing of its revelations helps it to stay on track by progressing and growing from the outset to eventually make this an exceptional story to be told than a rehash or just going for the tried and true.

Rating: 7/10

Director: Kaare Andrews
Stars: Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Ryan Donowho, Landon Liboiron, Jake Weary
Link: IMDB

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

51 (2011)

Hard up reporters, subservient soldiers and home sick aliens

It's that day at last, folks! The government is letting journalists on a tour of the infamous Area 51 Air Force base for the first time to dispel rumors of hidden extraterrestrials. Before being let in a Colonel Ronald Martin instructs his men that if any of the guests get to the lower levels they are instructed to shoot them, with jokes to follow since a share of them are left in the dark to what's really going on. The two renowned reporters, along with camera person and photographer, are let into the above ground Hangar 18 and are shown some fancy gadgets that are declassified just for them but still think they're hiding something else. Meanwhile, you guessed it, without even beating around the bush, there's an uprising forming with aliens that Big Brother were hiding below all along.

"51" delivers exactly what its premise suggests, though not much more for the experience that already hasn't been done in other films on the subject. In, out, forgotten--a painless delivery. This isn't exactly ponderous stuff or inventive at that, just a what if question with some action and gory violence to show for itself. The most you might get after is the question of if the government has the right to hide aliens if found or have the right to experiment on them in a callous fashion to supposedly protect ourselves from what we don't understand. For TV material, the acting is mostly consistent and adequate at giving momentum to its story even if their personalities don't have staying power or come across as award winning. Even with the B movie script they're given, this is taken somewhat seriously and by its close they come with changed outlooks from the events instead of remaining the same throughout. It tries, though still feels rushed, not fully outlined and like a demo than anything else. If this were, say, a pilot for a TV show, it wouldn't have held water since the concept only takes it so far.

The budget shows with simplistic sets and a small regiment despite guarding one of the US's most secretive military base. I mean, of course, appearance is everything--in that elite guards would send off red flags--but that's why you put elite guards in regular uniforms or possibly have another base as a backup nearby in case something goes wrong or comes under attack. Then again, this isn't "The Unit" when it comes to an engaging military strategy. They're lucky they get by here. This was surprisingly light on CGI compared to some other SyFy/Sci-Fi Channel features that have aired in the past decade. The prosthetic creature effects are still somewhat scrapped together and unabashedly shown in closeups for extended periods, so compensating is a must for a viewer. It could have used some more memorable scenarios and possibly amped up the action, as for a share of it, it tries to get by only with what little it has stretched out--that includes running around possibly the same reused hallways. Some tension is attempted with various issues arising, such as a self-destruct timer ticking down and an alien called patient zero potentially escaping into the population. Three varieties of alien species are shown: cooperative, monstrous killer and chameleon. This frames two teams, with one on the upper floors guarding in case anything escapes and one roaming the bottom levels with the reporters who are both documenting and fighting the enemy as well to get out alive.

As a horror film, it provides no scares--you can't help but notice the similarities that fall short of "Alien" with drippy mouths and strange noises yet without the tension and anticipation--and the blood shed is treated like it comes with the territory rather than building up to it or actually making it cringe worthy. As a science fiction piece it feels undeveloped compared to what's come before it, especially since the history of Area 51 is only briefly taped into, just the current goings on of the secret facility. As social commentary, it doesn't always carry a dual meaning, except to say that possibly one person can make a difference or not to just blindly hide or blindly take orders. The subtext drives at bringing the truth to the light, but, then again, it's about something that does or doesn't exist, so even then it can be taken with a grain of salt. I'd imagine it still got some triumphant high fives from conspiracy theorists around the country who managed to get away from their computers and "X-Files" DVD collections.

Rating: 3.5/10

Director: Jason Connery (The Devil's Tomb, Pandemic)
Stars: Bruce Boxleitner, Rachel Miner, Jason London, Vanessa Branch, John Shea
Link: IMDB

Scream of the Banshee (2011)

This chick can scream...but who'd date her?

This is a story that mixes Irish folklore with Templar knights that have locked away a secret for hundreds of years till it's accidentally unleashed in the modern day. It starts with more mystery and drama and then moves over to some more scares. The events unfold like a from-one-thing-to-the-next type of story mixed with amateur detective work since no one will believe such a fantastic tale anyhow but the few that seen it with their own bulging eyes.

In 12th century Ireland, knights are chasing a woman on horseback through the woods. A fight breaks out with some supernatural abilities shown and the victor, being the last man standing, decapitates the woman and encloses her head in a specially designed metallic box. Present day: an archeology professor is archiving historical artifacts when she receives an anonymous package with a gauntlet inside and a small map that hints at an additional item at the college campus she works at. She gives the task to her daughter and a false room is stumbled into with a medium sized crate that has Duncan written on the side. Inside is a metallic box that's opened by the gauntlet from earlier. It reveals a grotesque severed head with monstrous teeth. One of them disturbs it, causing the head to scream with such force that their ears bleed, only to then disintegrate with no evidence to show for themselves.

They begin to get haunting visits at night and strange occurrences as if something is trying to lure them out with a trap. They stumbled into more clues with a soothsayer named Broderick Duncan who used to teach at the same school. The Internet is a key player in their information gathering with videos from Duncan that leads them into finding out if you've heard the scream, it's essentially a death sentence. The daughter and mother are about to move around again, which causes tension to form between them and the daughter's new boyfriend. Though the romance angle between the two youngsters starts to distract from the story since it carries a contrasting tone and feels like fluff.

Some of the rules and mechanics line up a little too smoothly when the monsters appear and disappear. What's strange is the Banshee seems to wait around till it's convenient to the characters and how much development the audience is shown. It makes them unpredictable in a sense, but to a fault since you're not even sure what they're driving at. Your death? It makes it sound so mundane and one-dimensional when you have some rules for where they came from but not a solid reason of what they're doing there. The characters feel both totally safe to then completely in danger but without a balance in between to maintain the tension since there aren't very many rules in place to stop the Banshee and make this an engaging cat and mouse type of game on both sides. A share of the scares are extreme closeups and deafening sound effects with some strobes and unexpected events to catch you by surprise--to it's credit there's a reason for it. It's a good thing too as the flashing lights somewhat cover up some of the shoddy, thrown-together prosthetics and dated CGI work with good ol' smoke and mirrors.

"Scream of the Banshee" starts out on a high point with an intriguing premise with its own legend and rules, plus the way it was stumbled into makes it somewhat possible on suspending your disbelief. "Dead Silence" had some similar rules to its villain though both are completely different movies. This film only goes down hill from there as it begins to feel rushed to the point of nearly falling flat on its face and the audience thinking where did the picture go? The middle half starts to feel somewhat formulaic and not helped by the obvious editing trick that signals commercial breaks in between since it was also shown on the SyFy channel as a made of TV movie. The ending is a complete mess to the point where I'd have to have the patience of Dali Lama and another three paragraphs to break down the inconsistencies. Some of the dialogue at this point comes across as forced in that it doesn't always feel catered to that specific person playing the role. Some of it feels unauthentic enough to have been read just prior in a script. The motivations start to become nonsensical, anticlimactic and like padding to the run time, not to mention some of its prior story arcs were dropped and never picked back up. There's a decent movie in there somewhere, just whatever power above must have treated it like a stepping stone and had their attention/commitment elsewhere. The optimistic person in me can't get over how the movie can't hold up to such a cool title.

Rating: 2.5/10

From Black to Red recommends instead: "Dead Silence": Your scream is your death. So getting scared from pop outs and looming shadows is an integral part of the story that's also filled with atmosphere, engaging and memorable scenarios till the credits are rolling.

Director: Steven C. Miller (Automaton Transfusion)
Stars: Lauren Holly, Marcelle Baer, Leanne Cochran, Todd Haberkorn, Lance Henriksen
Link: IMDB

The Task (2010)

Your 15 minutes are up...

"The Task" is about an extreme of the extreme reality TV show in the US--despite the filming location being Bulgaria and the majority of the actors being from the UK with mostly North American accents--that goes so far as to kidnap its participants and bring them to the filming location without telling them first, of course, to make it more over-the-top for the hungry audiences that will be watching. The name of the game is for 6 participants--3 gals, 3 guys--to spend the night in an abandoned prison that has a haunted past with a sadistic, power hungry warden from the '30s and complete tasks that will put them to the test all for the sake of money and potential fame.

They walk around with their personality types on their foreheads: the brazen gal, flamboyant guy, pretty gal, cool guy, smart aleck and sister's keeper. The perspective is shown through the task takers as well as in the producer's trailer that runs the controls, such as spooky effects and cameras. As it turns out they're part of the game too and don't have as much use of manipulation as they think. Participants are shown in prerecorded segments stating their biggest fears and some of them have to relive them for the sake of entertainment.

The movie doesn't always keep a steady enough first person angle to make this more effectively spooky or scary to show what the person has to endure. The sets are catered to their fears but not always given a chance to truly get inside their sadistic mechanisms, and the effects are usually tricks of light to make it look as if something was there one moment, gone the next; the film is habitually dark as a result. It frequently changes up camera angles with a bit of style and switches over to the control trailer to show the behind-the-scenes people laughing and joking about, which takes one out the potential atmosphere even more so. This tries to be a share of aspects at once: fun/humorous, horrific, supernatural, thriller like and to project that reality TV flair while at it. It does the last well enough but the rest it only touches on for brief periods as it strings you along to see its culmination and tasks along the way that are bordering more on chore than challenge--not helped that the participants are just doing it to do it, rather than needing to do it for a personal goal. A share of it doesn't always cross over to be more than just a concept and go for a cinematic experience with a sense for engaging interaction between its characters. The acting is all over the place since this is a reality show and those notoriously go for forced emotions. In that regard it does feel spot on. Though for the theatrical experience it ranges from decent to atrocious depending on the moment and person or what tone they're trying to portray. For simple amusement, everyone keeps up, though for the dramatic and suspenseful, it holds up like a cardboard coffin.

I have to admit despite the premise being over-the-top and superficial, not to mention done similarly before--on real TV and usually with a haunted house in movies--I actually wanted to see how it would unfold initially. I mean, it's so ridiculous that you might think it has to be nothing but entertaining and hopefully competitive and sportsmanlike with the game angle. Not to mention for the participation mode to see people do unusual things that the audience would only guess if they'd have the courage to do themselves. Unfortunately there wasn't enough material to keep it intriguing and its is-it-real, is-it-not shtick actually took away from the film, which could have definitely been a solid angle to enhance it and give it a charging focus. Except it went from not taking itself seriously to actually taking itself seriously and then back again, but to only end up forming an extreme divide with the two mentioned and not always clenching the foundation in between to maintain gravitating mystery and suspense. This is a film that had potential even in a basic, one-off sense but the execution didn't give itself enough time to concentrate on all of the various angles it threw into the mix.

Rating: 3.5/10

Director: Alex Orwell
Link: IMDB

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seconds Apart (2011)

Two nerds you wouldn't dare mess with

A raging party is going down at a house with a group of jocks giving bragging rights to women and playing a drinking game around a table in an enclosed room. Someone shows up with a video camera and heads for the room they're in. The game suddenly turns over to Russian Roulette as each of the guys blows their brains out with the same casual dialog they engaged in before. The cynical and sarcastic detective Lampkin is called to the scene to investigate what looks at first as a suicide but without the logical reason to back it up. Jonah and Seth are twins that were born "Seconds Apart" and share everything, including the special ability that caused the jocks to kill themselves while they filmed on.

The twins are sadistic, smarty pants teens without remorse and a deadly weapon at their disposal, which leaves them without fear or feeling. They call what they do "projects" that come with a video library to show for their past transgressions. They lack empathy and use their hobby to get a shred of feeling, if possible, for the horrible, tortuous ways their victims end up going out when rewatching the video footage. Through sheer intuition and some interviews, the detective suspends his disbelief that they could have something to do with it despite the brothers never getting physical with the victims. The background knowledge he puts into this makes him in the modern day look more amateur than pro, as if he's all mouth, eyes and ears than an evidence man. How do you prove an unheard of ability in someone's mind through modern law? That's just it. How do you take one regular detective that's not on a special task force or seen anything of the like before and make him believe right away than just moving on; wouldn't have been the same movie, I know, but at least give him something more to clench a foundation to make it more fascinating and challenging as to what he's stumbled into otherwise the concept can feel underused to a new comer. Because he has too much time on his hands? No other cases? No wife/kids? Come on. The twins start to get power hungry when things don't go their way and act like they're invincible. Seth is unflinching to what they're doing, while Jonah is more reasonable. Jonah meets a new, confident girl from school named Eve that puts up a divide between the two that were inseparable beforehand causing their close knit relationship to go all downhill from there.

"Seconds Apart" plays out like a horror tale meets gumshoe type story with a shadowy look to the settings and chromatic, bleak templates in others to give it some atmosphere. The detective is somewhat tongue-in-cheek on the genre: drinking, smoking, a past traumatic event, wise cracking, trench coat wearing, obsessive behavior--you name it. The issue is he stands out as such a contrast here that it makes you wonder what was the purpose of him being here other than to throw a stick in the spokes of the twins and be a self-sacrificing guy to uncover the truth. At points, he felt like a device in the script than a person, especially since the story doesn't maintain a steady central character but jumps between perspectives of both sides. This isn't always stable when balancing mystery and character development: either being too obvious or not giving enough. The two twins are frequently shown with their actions and thoughts out in the open, along with the detective frequenting old haunts and giving little bits of pieces of his past with the same nightmarish flashbacks of a tragedy with his late wife with a scar to show for it.

What brings the picture down is the general tone feels unsteady at points. It starts out somewhat sadistic but with some black/dry humor, then moves on over to the dramatic and sympathetic as they dive further into the characters' lives, and then a back and forth again to the previously mentioned but not always with smooth transitions in between. The film has its share of transitional periods but doesn't always maintain a level of intrigue or mystery, especially when it starts to meander in the middle portion and significantly bring down the focus the film had prior. The level of tension starts to lose its grip as it turns more melodramatic and somewhat mundane. Eventually they get to the explanation behind their abilities, though it seems somewhat run-of-the-mill and something you would have already seen on "X-Files" or "Millennium," except squeezed in towards the end as if they needed to include some stock answer for it all that wasn't even foreshadowed or built up to prior. Another twist happens, that's better left unhinted, but makes it more worthwhile.

The brothers have all the power and manipulation they need but are lonely individuals that don't know any better. They play the typical twins but amped up to an uncanny level, such as finishing each other's sentences or be it dressing and acting alike. Their parents are all creepy smiles and overly charming demeanor, no matter the situation. Their presence is unsettling since you don't know where they're coming from or what they're potentially hiding themselves. This has some fantastic visuals during some segments that look almost as detailed as paintings. There are also some really cruel and cringeworthy ways the victims hallucinate while in a trancelike state. "Seconds Apart" had a lot of potential but got a little ambitious to include as many threads as possible. I'd imagine it would have been a more solid experience if they resequenced, built up more to or tightened up some of the scenarios. It's no doubt got a distinct identity down pat, which can't always be said about other horror flicks, but those mentioned might have given it more of a central, driving focus to get completely wrapped up in.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Antonio Negret (Hacia la oscuridad (Towards Darkness))
Stars: Orlando Jones, Edmund Entin, Gary Entin, Samantha Droke, Louis Herthum, Morgana Shaw
Link: IMDB

Fertile Ground (2011)

Singles, beware of this place!

This is a drama that plays around with the supernatural in forms of visions, nightmares and pop-out scares accompanied with jarring music to momentarily rile senses. The main component of its story centers around a couple who are trying to conceive but due to complications it puts a strain on the relationship with a stay at home wife and a painter who keeps the family afloat with his art galleries.

Emily and Nate Weaver are attempting to have their first child, until during a dinner party Emily excuses herself and profusely bleeds out. They move out to an old farm house to get away from everything and restore their happiness. The property used to be in Nate's family in the early 20th century and was constructed 100 years prior to that. Soon enough, the old house gives off something more suspicious than the usual odd creak or two, such as a hand print on the window, voices in the cellar and some old photographs of past relatives. They stumble onto a human skull buried on the property. Emily heads over to the local eccentric historian who rattles off a list of speculative dark events that occurred at the residence over the course of its history. Her husband is frequently away due to his line of work and she's alone in the big, empty house by herself. Random, ominous occurrences are on the rise as if something is trying to communicate to her for help or ward her away. As you can already guess from the title's sake, she gets pregnant in their new house, though it's a high risk, causing her to stay off her feet and away from stress, which ends up only mounting to even more stress from the loneliness and isolation.

"Fertile Ground" tries to play on if it's the pressure of her situation, leading to just imagining it, if it's coincidental or if it's really happening and you're indeed watching a supernatural tale with ghosts. This is gradually paced and unfolds somewhat organically than coming right out and stating its intentions. It's partly a mystery, though in the meantime there isn't always a strong subtext to latch onto. It doesn't always hold steady with interest or with relating points and part of the experience feels somewhat like routine stuff, only to remind you that you have better things to do than to occupy yourself with the dramas of a couple in a country house in who knows where. The movie doesn't always grab you and pull you in or make what you're watching significant or an exceptional to the rule until the latter half that picks up to a thriller like pacing. Though getting there doesn't always work with the sum of its collective parts, since the audience will get just an abrupt scare every now and again in comparison to the main story. Some of the drama feels somewhat forced despite the film moving one moment at a time, especially when the situations going for tension don't always feel detrimental enough.

It boils down to the slow degradation of a married couple who's got a strong case of cabin fever or a wicked case of possession. "Fertile Ground" does the ambiguous ending well, with enough information to fairly choose a side and your own interpretation. That's definitely its strength and it's evident that the filmmakers worked back through the movie to make that happen quite possibly to a fault since the rest is anchored on something you haven't even seen yet till you get there.

Rating: 5.5/10

Director: Adam Gierasch (Autopsy, Night of the Demons 2010)
Stars: Leisha Hailey, Gale Harold
Link: IMDB