Tag: ciaran foy

Eli


Eli (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Ciarán Foy’s “Eli” is yet another substandard horror film with little on its mind other than to deliver a big twist during the final fifteen minutes. The journey toward the destination is slow, interminable, and peppered with scares that rarely land on target. For a story that unfolds in an estate in the middle of the country—perfect for a haunted house movie—there is no intrigue, just clichés that pile on top of one another until the viewer is compelled to no longer care.

It begins with a curious medical case about a boy named Eli (Charlie Shotwell) who began to exhibit signs of an unnamed autoimmune disorder four years prior. When exposed to the environment, red spots appear on his skin aggressively and so he is forced to live in a bubble. His parents (Kelly Reilly, Max Martini) found a new hope: Dr. Horn (Lili Taylor), an immunologist who plans to employ viral gene therapy to repair the boy’s defective genes.

Although a mysterious premise, the science aspect of the picture is almost immediately thrown out the window from the moment the desperate family steps inside the palatial home. It does not help that the immunologist and her nurses are written as villains in the most obvious way possible: stern-faced, cold, impersonal, robotic. It does not provide the audience a chance to decide for themselves whether or not to trust the poker-faced trio. You see, the reason is because every decision must serve the rug to be pulled from right underneath our feet. If the screenplay by David Chirchirillo, Ian Goldberg, and Richard Naing really cared about engaging the audience, it would have been willing to entertain possibilities.

The middle portion drags to the point of futility. Every time day turns into night, you can bet that Eli would have a nightmare, get up from the bed, and explore the creepy facility. Sometimes he encounters ghostly figures that breathe on windowpanes, a few of them whisper clues, and one or two reveal themselves, CGI and all. It is formulaic, exhausting, and not at all scary. There is a lack of patience during the buildup and so the would-be payoffs are not at all impactful. Shotwell is quite convincing at looking terrified, but we do not believe the emotions on his face because there is nothing special about the craft propelling such encounters.

As for the drama between a desperate mother and seemingly cold father, I found it to be recycled fluff. There is a scene early in the picture which shows the family’s financial struggle due to the boy’s rising medical costs. However, this fact—this reality—is never brought up again. I think the movie could have used more searing honesty. It is common knowledge that family members tend to fight among one another when money is tight. People get desperate not knowing how to pay for rent or how to pay for the next meal. Pretty much everybody can relate or empathize with this. However, the movie would rather focus on parents fighting because one has lied, or has kept a secret, or some vanilla reason. Be direct. Deliver raw drama.

Admittedly, the twist is quite smart. I did not see it coming. But a good twist—even a great one—is not worth a recommendation when everything else around it is uninspired, from the unsubtle dialogue, forgettable set decor, down to a resolution that hints at a possible sequel should the movie become a success. It is pessimistic filmmaking.

Citadel


Citadel (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and Joanne (Amy Shiels) are about to leave their high-rise apartment. Tommy figures he should bring down some containers to the taxi before assisting his very pregnant wife out of the building. Upon his return, he encounters a malfunction in the elevator. Although it takes him to the correct floor, the door does not open. Almost immediately, he sees three hooded figures, potentially children due to their height, walk up to Joanne and start attacking her. When Tommy finally gets out of the box, he sees his wife covered in blood with a syringe having punctured where the baby is supposed to be.

Written and directed by Ciaran Foy, “Citadel” piques our interest by not completely letting us in on whatever is going on until well past the halfway point. While it does have positive qualities, in a way, the technique works against itself. By forcing us to exercise our imaginations, most of us will have come up with wild scenarios prior to the reveal. Unfortunately, its secrets are not entirely worth the wait.

The look of the picture is depressing which is appropriate. Not only is Tommy in a state of grief, he has developed agoraphobia since the encounter. The scenes set outside are ugly: no other color is present other than white, black, gray, and occasional tinge of blue; trash bags and broken furnitures are never picked up by garbage trucks; and, for an urban milieu, there seems to be no one around. At some point, I wondered if Tommy is living in a type of purgatory where he is meant to suffer for his sins.

It is not certain whether something supernatural is going on. There are pieces that seem to suggest that such a thing is occurring. Interestingly, the screenplay is adamant on focusing on the human factor for most of its running time. Tommy’s crippling agoraphobia and his awkward but warm interactions with a nurse, Marie (Wunmi Mosaku), who may or may not be interested in Tommy romantically, are utilized as anchors in order for the story to have some level of realism. These are more rewarding than the would-be horrors or thrills later in the film.

What the movie needs is a jolt in order for it to take off. When a priest (James Cosmo) and a blind boy (Jake Wilson) are introduced, there is an excitement because it appears as though the pieces are finally going to be put together. However, these characters prove to be so one-dimensional, they eventually start to feel too much like tools of the plot rather than interesting people who happen to have a little bit of knowledge about the bizarre attacks happening all around. It is difficult to care about what will happen to them.

“Citadel” has an interesting premise but its potential is squandered slowly by the writer-director consistently failing to advance the story in ways that makes sense for its universe. It has its menacing environ down pat. Everything else, however, needs to fall into place if we are putting the time and brain power to figure out its curiosities.

Sinister 2


Sinister 2 (2015)
★ / ★★★★

“Sinister 2,” written by Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, is a toothless horror-thriller, near comatose in tone and atmosphere, and the visuals are so uninspired, I was reminded of cripplingly bad horror movies from the early 2000s where filmmakers are still trying to figure out how and when to use CGI. The picture is clearly lacking in inspiration, merely cashing in from the success of its predecessor.

Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) is in hiding with her twin boys, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), because her abusive husband wishes to take away her children. However, what she believes is a place of safety turns out to be a house next to a church where a gruesome murder-suicide had occurred. Unbeknownst to Courtney, Dylan has to ability to see not only ghosts of children but also a supernatural creature named Bughuul (Nicholas King), known as the Eater of Children.

A major driving force in the plot is the extremely violent movies recorded by children who murdered their families. Supposedly, these movies have the power to inspire whoever watches them into making their own horrific film, preferably surpassing the violence they had seen. The problem is, none of these clips are particularly scary, memorable, or compelling. On the contrary, a handful of them are quite laughable, particularly the one involving an alligator or crocodile as it bites off the head of each family member.

It fails to take advantage of its rural setting. The farmhouse with a terrible past sits in the middle of nowhere, but the director, Ciarán Foy, defaults framing from the waist up. This is a miscalculation on two levels. First, the performers are not particularly convincing in their roles. The words they utter are merely decorations in order to move the plot along. We do not feel the history of each character. Second, not enough of the environment is captured in the background in order to get the audience into a spooky or creepy mood.

The latter limitation is particularly problematic because this is a horror film, after all. Instead, the filmmakers rely on utilizing computer graphic images to try to scare us, from elusive apparitions to a fire that threatens to consume. Having too much CGI in the horror genre almost never works because it takes away the required realism in order to get the audience to believe, subconsciously or otherwise, that what is happening on screen could happen out there. As in many horror films, the CGI here looks cheap and distracting.

There is a romantic subplot in “Sinister 2” that is so misplaced, one begs to wonder what the writers were thinking during the brainstorming process. Someone should have spoken up that such a sudden shift in tone distracts from the main story rather than elevating it. But even if did not, there is nothing new or exciting about the would-be couple. The charade is cheesy, desperate, and disingenuous.