Tag: andre ovredal

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” based on a book series by Alvin Schwartz, tells the story of a group of friends who come across a book in a hidden room inside an abandoned mansion—a place with a reputation for being haunted. The teenagers realize later it is no ordinary book; whatever is written on it, in blood, comes true. Although the work, directed by André Øvredal, offers a watchable cast who share good chemistry, the monsters are memorable, and some scares manage to land, as a whole it remains a disappointment because one cannot help but suspect it is holding back.

The target audience are those in their early to mid-teens. I found this to be quite strange because the story takes place in 1968 on the eve of Richard Nixon becoming president. We see posters of Nixon all over the small town of Mill Valley (he is not liked there) and the subject of the Vietnam War is broached several times. “Night of the Living Dead” is shown at the drive-in theater. While I admired its specificity in terms of images, music, and dialogue, the work does not commit fully in delivering scares. It is a shame because it is strong when it comes to establishing build-up, but when gruesome violence is required, for instance, it only shows about half of what feels right. As a result, the experience, too, is halved. Clearly, the picture is tailored to receive a PG-13 rating.

The young cast is composed of memorable faces but not performances. Zoe Margaret Colletti plays Stella, the only girl in the group who is so obsessed with horror that she decides to take the mysterious book home so she could study it further. (Stella aspires to become a writer.) Gabriel Rush and Austin Zajur portray Auggie and Chuck, respectively, and their characters are meant to provide comic relief. Last but not least, Michael Garza takes the role of Ramon, a Mexican-American who happens to be passing by Mill Valley, an outsider who must endure racism from some of the white residents and authority figures.

Each actor is given a moment to shine exactly because every character is provided a demon or monster to face. We may not know Stella, Ramon, Auggie, and Chuck in a deep or meaningful way, but we always hope for their safety when pressure is up. Unlike mean-spirited horror films, the audience is consistently on the side of those being hunted.

I found the creatures to be inspired. It is expected that when actual masks and body suits are utilized, the encounters feel all the more effective. However, I was surprised that even the CGI creatures are almost as powerful, especially the so-called Jangly Man that is capable of taking apart its limbs at will. It is one thing that The Jangly Man looks and sounds demonic. It is another that we become convinced it is unstoppable. I also relished Harold the scarecrow who appears early in the film. The manner in which it lumbers about leaves an imprint in the mind. Notice the picture’s appropriate use of silence as tension increases. At times hearing only the wind caressing the cops can be just as deafening as desperate screams for help.

There is an undercooked backstory which involves the former owners of the aforementioned abandoned house. It is the weakest link in the film; it doesn’t help that the repercussions of their actions propel our characters into a drawn-out investigation. The problem is, however, Stella, Auggie, Ramon, and Chuck are not written to be especially resourceful, intelligent, or pragmatic. They are simply ordinary teenagers who just happen to get caught up in something bigger than themselves. Thus, the investigatory sequences come across painfully contrived.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

André Øvredal’s deliciously creepy horror picture “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” knows how to get under the skin of its audience. Unlike many modern films of the genre, it does not rely solely on jump scares and try to pass such evanescent shocking sensations as a genuine horror experience. Instead, it bears numerous similarities with old-fashioned horror movies in that it is interested in tension-building and then breaking it without warning. What results is a highly watchable and curious project, one best seen in a group with all the lights off.

The picture unfolds in a morgue where father and son, Tommy (Brian Box) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), receive a recently found corpse found in a bizarre crime scene. The woman has neither ID on her nor are her fingerprints on the police database and so, during the coroners’ autopsy, she is named Jane Doe. Immediately, during the first round of examination, the veteran notices something strange: despite Jane Doe’s eyes being cloudy, which is a sign that the body has been dead for a couple of days, the body looks fresh—rigor mortis has not even set in yet. This is but one of the many contradictions the Tildens are going to encounter throughout their increasingly frightening night underground.

The film is at its best when simply observing the characters work. The director is aware that the material is interesting and so he is confident in allowing the camera to capture the action without employing ostentatious tricks or gimmicks. (Like having the camera enter from the nose passages and exploring inside the body or something laughably silly like that.) Øvredal uses closeups at the right time and he knows how long to hold the frame in order to extract the greatest level of fascination. I admired that there is great control from behind the camera even though images involve cutting of the flesh, sawing of the bone, organs being taken out. Its clinal approach is most appropriate.

Notice its use of sound. When a drawer containing a corpse is pulled open, metals rubbing against one another make a flinch-inducing noise. The sound of footsteps are amplified when it is dark. Sudden changes of songs or announcements emanating from the radio grabs one’s attention. And never have I been more disturbed to hear the sound of bell tinkling from a distance. Decide to see the film and you’ll know why. And sometimes it’s extremely unnerving when no sound is heard for a couple of seconds.

Imaginative minds are likely to find “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” to be a fun playground full of possibilities. After each strange detail is presented, my hypothesis about who Jane Doe was or what happened to her changed. It demands that the audience think alongside the characters and to keep up. Fans of well-written, well-acted, old-school horror will walk away satiated.


Trollhunter (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Film students Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) decided to document strange bear killings in the rural areas of Norway. They found a man named Hans (Otto Jespersen) intriguing, as well as the prime suspect in illegally hunting bears, so they snooped around his mobile home and followed him into the forest. But when the trio got there, they heard a roar. Out of the darkness, Hans ran for his life. To the students’ horror, a three-headed troll was right behind him. Written and directed by André Øvredal, “TrollHunter” was an exciting, amusing, and creative adventure. Coming into the film, I knew two things about trolls: they were ugly and they weren’t friendly. I was surprised with the material’s ability in convincing us, for instance, that trolls, creatures from fairytales, were actually mammals. We had a chance to learn what they ate, their gestation period, if they were able to communicate with one another, territoriality, and even the different types of trolls–mountain trolls and woodland trolls. But the movie wasn’t just about the trolls. It was also about Hans and the way he defined his occupation. Rather, the way his occupation defined him. There were true and earned sensitive moments where he reminisced about botched jobs and considered what he would have done differently if he had known better. Looking at his lifestyle more closely, he had similarities with the trolls that he hunted: isolated from the world and feared by those who saw him at first glance. But Hans wasn’t just a contemplative loner. He had a sense of humor. When asked by the three aspiring filmmakers questions designed to poke fun of what he knew, Hans answered with dry wit and made the attempted mockery into legitimate questions. Hans was likable because of his patience and ability to surprise. We were supposed to identify with Thomas, Johanna, and Kalle. Although amusing and charismatic in their own ways, I wish they were a bit smarter. When running away from trolls, they couldn’t help but look back. The movie was supposed to be a mockumentary. If I was holding the camera and an angry troll was right behind me, presumably wanting to eat me, rest assured that I would not be looking back. The biggest question in my mind wouldn’t concern the distance between me and the troll. My main question would be whether I was the slowest person in the group. Nevertheless, I had to give the picture credit for not being afraid to be silly. It could have been a straight-faced horror film with blood and guts occupying every space and it wouldn’t have been as involving. Half the fun was discovering every nook and cranny where troll slime could be found. The trolls blended into the environment so well, there was plenty of room for surprises. “Trolljegeren,” although obviously influenced by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ “The Blair Witch Project” with its shaky camera and wooded milieu, had original ideas of its own. As the trolls got bigger, so did its ideas.