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Posts tagged ‘evil’

20
May

The Devil Inside


Devil Inside, The (2012)
★ / ★★★★

When Isabella was a child, three members of the church attempted to perform an exorcism on her mother, Maria (Suzan Crowley), which led to a tragedy. Maria telephoned for help and confessed to killing two priests and a nun. Years later, Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) now in her mid-twenties, felt that she needed to understand what really happened to her mother. Along with Michael (Ionut Grama), the cameraman, the duo decided to make a documentary of their entire trip to Italy. Their first assignment was to visit Maria who’d been transferred to Centrino Mental Hospital. The biggest problem with “The Devil Inside,” written by William Brent Bell and Matthew Peterman, was not its utter unoriginality when it came to presenting the basics of demonic possession and exorcism, but its slothful execution and poor control of the camera. The filmmakers strived to create a realistic mood in the most elementary and lazy manner: by shaking the camera so vigorously and aimlessly, I began to get very angry because the images that were supposed to inspire audience reaction were reluctantly shown. Keep in mind that this is coming from a person who can withstand a decent amount of camera convulsions. Because certain images were so evasive, perhaps the intention was to tease us into looking closer at the screen. It would have worked if the tension was established in varying rates and actually allowed horrific scenes to reach several zeniths punctuated by creative freedom by means of a sense of humor or false alarm. The picture was deathly one-note and I sat in my chair unmoved, possessed by boredom. Furthermore, since the material spent much of its time with distractions, like whether or not Fathers Ben Rawlings (Simon Quarterman) and David Keane (Evan Helmuth), priests who performed exorcisms without permission from the church, ought to continue to support Isabella’s project. Suddenly, the picture became more about Father Ben’s ego of wanting to capture every moment on film–evidence, he called them–and Father David’s concern for losing his job. Isabella was relegated to a typical one-dimensional character who had nothing to do but scream at the right moments, only there was nothing worth screaming over due to a drought of genuinely scary scenes. The material touched upon the relationship between mental illness and demonic possession, so I was surprised that there weren’t more scenes between mother and daughter. Some psychological disorders like schizophrenia are known to be genetically linked which means it can be passed on from parent to offspring. Why not explore that connection between science and religion? Should we trust our protagonist completely? The picture could have been more interesting if had been a little more ambitious. Personally, I’m not scared of demonic possessions. What I am a little bit more apprehensive about, however, is the possibility that it’s real. As a person of science, I am willing to believe that science doesn’t hold all the answers. If it did, the universe, in my eyes, would be less captivating. “The Devil Inside,” directed by William Brent Bell, could have used a little bit of mystery, an edge that would allow it to stand out from the rest of the exorcism movies. But since it lacked inspiration, it’s just another nondescript writing on the wall created by a madman.

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28
Dec

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

A group of college students were driving up to the mountain to have some fun when they encountered two hillbillies, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), in a gas station. Having seen a lot of scary movies and heard of stories about grizzly murders in the woods, the college kids couldn’t help but translate Tucker and Dale’s every action as a possible chance to kidnap or kill them. In truth, the duo were only there because Tucker had recently bought a vacation home, a cabin, and they could use a bit of relaxation before heading back to work. “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson, directed by the former, had a chance to really sink its teeth in horror movie clichés about hillbillies being nothing but churlish, incestuous, often cannibalistic, folks but it ultimately felt superficial because the one-liners and the physical stunts lacked range. The set-up was this: The young men and women were so stupid, they ended up killing themselves by accident. Cut to Tucker and Dale’s shocked and horrified reactions. The material was very funny during its initial gags, but the filmmakers failed to detach from the formula, ironically constructing its own clichés by making fun of clichés. The title promised the two friends fighting evil. After they rescued Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, Allison’s friends thought that she was kidnapped because they observed from afar. This triggered Chad (Jesse Moss), innately irascible and shamelessly sporting an ugly popped collar, into a state of rage to the point where he ended up being as ruthless as the murderers his group of friends feared. The movie wasn’t specific in the “evil” that Tucker and Dale had to fight. Was it the negative stereotypes regarding hillbillies that became embedded in the genre’s bones over the history of cinema? Was it the apocryphal placidity in hateful individuals, who lived in the suburbs or cities all their lives, and their secret yearnings of violence just waiting to be unleashed? Furthermore, it failed to acknowledge that stereotyping can be a good thing; it helps our mind to process information faster than it normally would. For instance, they allow us to respond quickly to potential dangers. Relying on stereotypes and neglecting to put more thought into them, hence failing to sympathize with others who are different, is the real tragedy. If the screenplay had focused more on that message, tragedies even outside of horror movie conventions could have been effortlessly highlighted. The story really shouldn’t have been about the body count. Allison was in the process of getting her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, hoping to establish a career as a counselor. I expected her to be more self-aware. The subplot involving Dale and Allison falling for each other was a nuisance, almost worthy of a dozen eye-rollings. Wouldn’t it have been too much to ask if they didn’t pine for each other so profusely? With every bloody confrontation between the hillbillies and the college students, it was interrupted by Dale having to explain to Allison what had transpired. Given that we just saw what happened, the little summaries felt repetitive and I started to wonder if the filmmakers were simply biding their time to push the material to a typical ninety-minute mark because the script became indigent of fresh ideas that cut deeper than boning knives.

11
Nov

Ondskan


Ondskan (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Erik Ponti (Andreas Wilson) was expelled from school because of the brutal violence he inflicted upon some of his classmates. School officials didn’t know that Erik was physically abused by his step-father (Johan Rabaeus) at home and Erik’s actions were classic signs of transference. Erik’s mother (Marie Richardson), fully aware of the abuse, decided to send her son to a prestigious boarding school to get her child away from her husband and so that her son could have a chance of a promising future. Unbeknownst to her, she sent Erik to another version of hell where the older students, led by Otto Silverheim (Gustaf Skarsgård), bullied the younger ones for the sake of senseless tradition. Based on the autobiographical novel by Jan Guillou and directed by Mikael Håfström, what I loved about the film was it offered a rich insight about the criteria of evil and that, most of the time, it was hard to discern an evil action from an evil person. Evil actions were all around. Aside from Erik’s physically and emotionally abusive home, there was bullying outside of the classrooms, fellow classmates instigated unnecessary fights for the sake of vapid entertainment, the school officials actively neglected the seniors’ cruel pranks, even the kitchen staff decided to turn a blind eye to the flinch-inducing violence because they were afraid to lose their jobs. Sometimes allowing bad things happen could be considered evil, too. There was no doubt, at least in my mind, that it was the adults’ responsibility, whether an adult was a revered headmaster or a lowly cook, to take immediate action when students were being harmed. In a myriad ways, the violence in the school could be considered as a hyperbole. Nevertheless, it is all the more relevant today. With all the senseless bullying in schools all over the country (and I’m sure in other parts of the world as well) and the bullied committing suicide because they thought their lives weren’t going to get better or that no one was willing to listen and take an active role against their plight, it’s sad, even maddening. Håfström’s film was successful because it had a defined central theme and equally engaging and challenging characters. The picture was designed to make us angry, to question our own inaction when we see injustice around us, and to convince us that we have the power to make changes if we choose to. It wasn’t just about the violence. It was also about the friendship that grew between Erik and his intellectual roommate (Henrik Lundström). Through their interactions did we really get to learn who they were, what they wanted to be, and what they meant to each other. Their interactions were surprisingly moving and served as a great contrast against the darkness happening within the school and the individuals who controlled the system. “Ondskan” contained wonderful performances. Wilson had to carry much of the film and he found a balance between being ruthlessly tough and struggling to do the right thing. At the end of the day, he’s the kind of guy I would want by my side.

23
Oct

The Evil Dead


Evil Dead, The (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

Five friends (Bruce Campbell, Betsy Baker, Richard DeManincor, Ellen Sandweiss, Theresa Tilly) decided to drive up to a cabin in the mountains for some fun and relaxation. But when they played a recording of a man claiming that his wife had been possessed by evil and continued to listen until the man read an incantation off the Book of the Dead, spirits in the forest woke up from their slumber. Written and directed by Sam Raimi, “The Evil Dead” was only successful in tiny little pieces. I didn’t think it was effective as a whole because its straight-faced horror approach paled in comparison to the accidental comedy. I understood that the picture had a low budget and inexperienced actors. The script was hilariously one-dimensional. Those elements were not the problem. In fact, those were the reasons why I kept watching. Despite its setbacks, I loved Raimi’s unwavering confidence in delivering a movie that was close or, quite possibly, matched his vision. He wasn’t afraid to move the camera even though it looked silly. Sometimes the aggressive camera movements worked especially when something would pop out of a dark corner (or cellar). In its goriest form, I couldn’t help but wear a smile on my face because it was so obvious that the flesh being torn apart was a prop. The blood looked very fake and the voices of the demons sounded like women with a very bad case of the flu and attempting to sound like a burly men. The claymation was inspired and I wondered, when the zombies met their doom, what the solid green substance was supposed to be. I’m familiar with the human body and I still don’t know what it was. While it was enjoyable to watch, I found the material repetitive. Ash (Campbell), our protagonist, spent too much time confronting and dismembering his possessed friends. They just wouldn’t die. By the third time a friend turned back to life, it was still somewhat amusing. But by the fifth time, the joke had outgrown its welcome. The problem was we didn’t know anything about the forest. Why were the spirits so angry? Why did the so-called Book of the Dead end up in the cabin in the middle of nowhere? What happened to the man and his wife in the recording? There were too many unanswered questions. If the director had taken off a scene or two of Ash trying to get his head around the fact that his friends were dead and provided some background information about the horrific happenings, “The Evil Dead” would have felt more balanced. Campbell was wonderful as Ash. His facial expressions when looking at something horrific were absolutely priceless, but I felt a smidgen of sensitivity during his more quiet moments. Maybe being green is not so bad.

25
Apr

Children of the Corn


Children of the Corn (1984)
★ / ★★★★

After church, Job (Robby Kiger) and his father went to a diner for breakfast. It seemed like a regular Sunday in Gatlin, Nebraska but something sinister happened. The kids started to give each other strange looks and the next thing we knew, they started killing the adults around them. The only kids who did not seem affected were Job and his sister (Anne Marie McEvoy) who had a gift of foretelling events through drawing. When a couple (Linda Hamilton, Peter Horton) accidentally ran over a boy, they eventually decided to stop by Gatlin to report the incident. The picture started off strongly. The thought of kids murdering people without reason, including their parents, gave me the creeps. I was curious about what triggered the strange events and the endgame of those involved. Unfortunately, the film failed to give any answer. Instead, it spent half of its time showing us the couple driving on a seemingly interminable freeway. While their interactions were somewhat amusing and the establishment of their characters necessary, there wasn’t enough edge to hold my interest. I saw one distraction after another which made me think about the weakness of both the writing and the execution. I wanted to know more about the psychic sister. What made her and Job unsusceptible to the urge to commit murder? Instead, the picture focused on the many speeches of Isaac (John Franklin) and almost caveman-like Malachai (Courtney Gains). It was obvious that the material wanted to comment on taking religion too seriously along with their respective scriptures word-for-word, but focusing on that one aspect diminished the creativity and imagination that should have been applied to the overall story. It would have been more haunting if the monster or devil known as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” was not shown but merely implied. It wasn’t that I was unconvinced my the special and visual effects (I’m always more concerned about the concept), but the idea that some force could drive children to madness was enough. Sometimes simplicity is key. It just needed to elaborate on its big ideas and consistently raise the bar instead of recycling horror movie clichés. Based on Stephen King’s short story and directed by Fritz Kiersch, “Children of the Corn” was a huge disappointment because it had such a promising first scene. When the couple walked around a seemingly abandoned small town, I felt like I was there. It needed more creepy moments like that instead of its dull fixation on human sacrifice.

29
Mar

The Killer Inside Me


Killer Inside Me, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a deputy sheriff in a small town in Texas, was a charming guy who everybody knew and trusted. What they didn’t know about him was the fact that he liked to be violent in the bedroom and he had a proclivity to kill. Assigned to drive a prostitute (Jessica Alba) out of town, Lou became sexually entangled with her instead. For reasons that did not make sense to us but certainly made sense in Lou’s sick mind, he murdered her with his bare hands. As the bodies started to pile up, people slowly started to figure out who might be responsible for the brutal murders. I’ve read a number of negative reviews about this movie. While I do believe that it’s not for everyone, I think the filmmakers made a solid effort in painting a portrait of an enigmatic serial killer. Lou was an anomaly. At first I found it easy to figure out his motivations and what he could be thinking while interacting with people who tried to get him to admit that he was a killer. As the film went on, I thought his many lies were eventually catching up with him. But then it occured to me: He wanted to get caught. All of the interrogations and the “mistakes” he left at the scene of the crime were a part of his game. He wanted to feel the fear of getting caught because he found it difficult to feel in general. He threw around phrases like “I love you” but he had no idea what those meant. The scene that got to me most was not the brutal violence (although I did wince and had to look away during the prostitute’s death scene). It was when Lou admitted that he had a problem. He stated that the urge to kill would come to him at the most unpredictable moments. He would be reading a book and suddenly he would feel the itch to commit a crime and the need to scratch it. Affleck’s acting should be commended because he said it so nonchalantly, like telling a friend how his day went or how the weather was. Throughout the picture, Affleck held a quiet intensity and I was focused on him because I never knew when he would strike. Despite the film’s violent scenes, “The Killer Inside Me” did not glorify it. Those ugly scenes had to be shown to serve as a contrast to Lou’s very charismatic façade. Based on a novel by Jim Thompson and directed by Michael Winterbottom, “The Killer Inside Me” is a challenging picture to sit through because it doesn’t offer easy answers. Sometimes the conclusions it offers do not necessarily make sense but it works because the greatest evils lack logic. It just is and that is what’s so scary in staring into the unknown and not finding answers. In comparison, Lou Ford makes serial killers like Michael C. Hall’s Dexter Morgan look very tame.

21
Mar

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The documentary opened as it showed three eight-year-old boys’ naked and mutilated bodies in the woods of West Memphis, Arkansas. The main suspects were three teenagers (Jessie Misskelly Jr., Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols) who were labeled as devil worshippers by their community because they liked to wear black and listen to death metal music. I found this film scary not because of the suspects actually being into satanism (I believe they were curious about it but weren’t actually engaged in its practice) but because of the community willing to put the teens in jail for life (or even put to death) for the sole reason that they needed someone to blame. Since word-of-mouth and the media labeled the suspects as satanists, the jury became blind to the cold hard facts. For instance, they failed to put into account that Misskelly had an I.Q. of 72 and being cornered by the police’s leading questions would most likely result in a forced confession in hopes that the problem would “go away” as soon as possible. I’m assuming that since the jury did not have sufficient background with people who were mentally challenged, they couldn’t fully understand that the confession should be taken with great consideration. Furthermore, the lack of physical evidence was staggering. Since the victims were buldgeoned beyond recognition, I found it unsettling that blood was not found at the scene of the crime. No murder weapon was found aside from a knife conveniently found by the cops in a lake. A strange man with blood all over him was found by a pub owner at the night of the murder but the police didn’t bother to show up to investigate. I suspected foul play. If I was on that jury, there was no way I could have passed a guilty verdict on my part because so many things from the prosecutor’s side did not fit together. What I believe is that the community needed an easy, immediate answer. In the end, we don’t know for sure who murdered the children. It could have been the three teens. It could have been a family member of one of the kids. It could have been a serial killer who happened to pass by West Memphis that night. We don’t know. But what I know is that evil was committed in the community by means of injustice in the legal system. If the case was tried somewhere else, I strongly believe that the outcome would have been different for Misskelly, Baldwin and Echols. I may have sided with the defense on this case but what I admired most was that the film spent equal time with both sides. I understood the bereaved parents’ anger toward the three demonized teenagers. They claimed they wanted to kill the suspects or hurt them in some way. I didn’t blame them for it because if I were in their situation, I would most likely feel the same. “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, is an excellent documentary about skepticism and how powerful it can become if one is willing to listen and look beyond the obvious answers.

12
Feb

Paranormal Activity 2


Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

A family of four, led by Daniel and Kristi (Brian Boland and Sprague Grayden), decided to set up cameras all over the house because they believed someone vandalized their home while they were on vacation. Several days after the cameras were set up, the family reviewed the recorded images and started to notice strange things like objects moving by themselves. We observed baby Hunter (played by William Juan Prieto and Jackson Xenia Prieto) focused on something while in his crib in the middle of the night. Ali (Molly Ephraim), the eldest child, initially thought it was cool that the house was haunted so, along with her boyfiend (Seth Ginsberg), they tried to communicate with the spirits using a Ouija board. That’s never a good idea. “Paranormal Activity 2,” directed by Tod Williams, had a solid rising action. It was similar to its predecessor, directed by Oren Peli, because it managed to convey chilling images by showing very little. For instance, when the mother started hearing noises in the baby’s room and found that the weird noise wasn’t there, she headed to the connecting bathroom. Then something small would move near the crib. It obviously wasn’t the wind because the doors and windows were shut. When the mother returned to the room, the object ceased to move. It was scary because it defied physics. A moving object can’t abruptly stop moving without some force acting against it. Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie’s (Katie Featherston) return worked in some ways. Their appearance reminded me of why I enjoyed the first picture so much. They had good chemistry and their interactions were playful and amusing. But when the film started to weave in and explain how Micah and Katie’s story was related to the family in question, it felt forced. It began to feel like I was in a room watching a home movie and the writers were next to me as they attempted to write the script using a loud typewriter. It lacked believability. Once the kitchen cabinets and drawers were flung open at the same time, it was downhill from there because it wanted to increase the ante. But it didn’t need to. I missed the amusing scenes when Martine (Vivis Cortez), the family’s nanny, believed the house was haunted so she tried to let the good spirits inside using various incense and prayers. I also thought it was funny when Ali “researched” haunted houses and seemed to believe everything she read on the internet. The boyfriend just smiled because he knew how silly it was. It was simple, but I think it worked as a commentary for the young and not-so-young’s dependence on computers when we desperately need information. “Paranormal Activity 2” had some good scares and uncomfortable (but fun) chuckles as byproduct of stress (or fear) but it offered nothing new.

24
Sep

Devil


Devil (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

The plot of “Devil,” based on the story by M. Night Shyamalan, is simple: five people (Bojana Novakovic, Jenny O’Hara, Bokeem Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend, Logan Marshall-Green) are stuck in an elevator and a cop (Chris Messina) tries to save them. But here’s the first twist: one of the five is the devil and it is up to us to determine who it is. I know it’s strange to mention but I really liked the opening credits. The images were upside down which suggested that what we were about to see was not ordinary and we should expect the unexpected. The film was not particularly scary. I was more curious than scared. Since the movie is only about an hour and twenty minutes, it had no choice but to get to the meat of the happenings beginning with a suicide that supposedly signaled that the devil was coming. Since the material wasn’t too scary, I wished it was more character-driven. Instead of merely mentioning the characters’ respective backgrounds, I wanted more flashback scenes. By showing us actual images regarding where they come from, the audiences become active participants and it allows us to interpret what we see. It also allows us to judge whether the characters deserve to be in their current situation. Since the film had religious overtones (Jacob Vargas had some funny moments which were nice breaks between intense scenes), allowing us to judge implies that we are gods and it is up to us to categorize the sinners. The movie gave me the creeps. The characters trapped in the elevator were observed by the cops and the maintenance people through a camera. (The film could have commented on the nature voyeurism and the difference between experiencing something first hand versus through the lens, but it didn’t.) In one of the scenes, the devil’s face appeared on screen. That didn’t do much for me. But for one barely noticeable split second, as a person who likes to relish every frame, I saw that one of the characters had horns on his/her head. It led me to the correct answer regarding the identity of the devil. Indeed, I questioned whether I was right again and again because I had this feeling that the filmmakers were trying to trick those who saw the minute detail, but it was nice that they didn’t. I desperately wanted a rewind button to see if my mind was simply playing tricks on me because I was very into the moment. In the end, I had a plethora of questions left unanswered. For instance, I didn’t quite understand why the devil gave one of the characters a chance to come clean but the others weren’t given the same chance. If the devil, as it claimed, really wanted this particular person’s soul, why give that person a chance? But perhaps I’m just being too analytical. I am aware that “Devil,” directed by John Erick Dowdle, is the first of “The Night Chronicles” trilogy. Hopefully, the series continues not only for the purpose of possibly answering some of the questions in my head but also because I thought the film was a nice treat. It had a concept that reminded me of situational horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a refreshing break from the torture porn so-called horror movies like increasingly uninspired “Saw” franchise. What “Devil” lacked in blood made up for its curious nature.

20
May

Das Weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte


Weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte, Das (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte” or “The White Ribbon,” written and directed by Michael Haneke, was a stunning black-and-white picture that tried to offer some explanations regarding the cruelty of the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Although I liked this film because it was on a league of its own, I couldn’t help but feel very disappointed because it was wildly uneven. Having a pattern of a great scene followed by two or three banal scenes hindered this film tremendously. The movie started off with a man on a horse tripping on an almost invisible rope. The whole small village was stunned by the horrible crime but little did they know that it was only the beginning of such monstrous acts. Throughout the film, with many main and side characters, we were given the chance to play guessing games on who might have committed those crimes. Was it the adults who were tired of the Baron and his family? Was it the children who were abused and mistreated by their parents? Or was it nobody from the village and all of it were just random acts of violence? Half-way through the picture, I grew exhausted of the film because the payoffs were few and far between. I could feel something sinister going on under the surface but the director either was too afraid to tackle the issue head-on or he was simply being pretentious by masking everything in “subtlety.” I didn’t understand what he was trying to do because his execution was so vague. I thought his goal was to explain possible reasons why unnecessary evils were committed in the ’30s and ’40s because it was promised by the narrator. Instead, we get scenes like a doctor having an affair or the Baron’s wife confessing her transgressions to her husband. When I look back on it, I felt like this movie could have been ninety minutes long and it would have been more interesting and more powerful. The best scenes were definitely the ones that featured the way different parents disciplined their children. Not only did those scenes say something about the parents but it told the audiences something about the children–the manner in which they immediately reacted to such punishments and later on when faced with decisions with similar consequences. I was able to think back to the child psychology courses I’ve taken and think about how repression, forceful application of shame (without the kids fully understanding why what they did was wrong), and one-dimensional way of raising children could impact the kids in both short-term and long-term. In that respect, I thought the movie did a good job. It’s just that the technical elements didn’t quite click with me because it lacked focus. For a movie about brewing evil, it didn’t have enough tension so it wasn’t exciting. It was interesting but in a monotonous manner that requires a lot of patience.

16
Dec

Platoon


Platoon (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) signed up to be a soldier because he felt like participating in a war was a family legacy since his grandfather and father fought the wars of their generations. Being a new soldier, he looked up to two people who had higher ranks: Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). The former represented composure, control and ethics despite the craziness of war, while the latter embodied the evil, darkness, and cruelty. I thought this movie was going to be another one of those war classics that was overly long. I was quickly proven wrong because of the number of scenes that highlighted the silence and all we could hear was the rustling of the leaves as the soldiers slithered their way through the jungle. I also didn’t expect a lot of character development because war pictures often focus their energy on the epic battle sequences. The narration worked for me because the thoughts and insights that Sheen’s character was unable to talk about with his comrades was out in the open for the audiences. There was a real sensitivity to his character; the real turning point for me when I decided that I was going to root for his character was when he proudly wore his naïveté on his sleeves regarding one of the reasons why he volunteered to be a soldier. He reasoned that that the rich always got away from all the dirty work and he felt that he shouldn’t be anyone special just because he was born with money. Also, since he felt like he wasn’t learning anything in college, essentially, he might as well make himself useful by joining the army. Scenes like those when the characters were just talking and measuring each other up really fascinated me and I was interested in what ways they would change by the end of the picture. Oliver Stone, the director, helmed a war film that had an internal mologue mixed with moral ambiguities instead of taking the easier route of simply entertaining the viewers with empty explosions and guts being flung into the air. “Platoon” was gorgeously shot in the Philippines and the night scenes really captured the horror of the enemies blending into the environment. Lastly, it was interesting to see future stars such as the younger Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon, and Forest Whitaker. “Platoon” ranks among other unforgettable war pictures such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

20
Nov

Interview with the Vampire


Interview with the Vampire (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★

After being caught up with the “True Blood” craze, I decided to visit some of my favorite vampire movies. “Interview with the Vampire,” directed by Neil Jordan, was one of those movies I saw in early high school that I loved but forgot the details as years went on. I’m surprised this one strongly held up against other horror pictures, especially vampire movies. It’s something I didn’t quite expect because the movies I used to think were scary when I was younger turned out to be silly and vapid in storytelling. Tom Cruise stars as Lestat, a vampire who was as equally hungry for blood as he was with power. He one day decided to make Louis (Brad Pitt) into a vampire because, at least according to him, he wanted to give Louis a choice to relieve his pain of losing his wife and child. Despite turning into the undead, Louis still managed to hang onto his humanity by refusing to feed on humans. This bothered Lestat and thought that Louis’ loneliness would be eliminated by giving Louis a companion–in a form of a vampire child played by Kirsten Dunst. But this all happened in the past as the details which covered centuries were revealed by Louis to an enthusiastic reporter (Christian Slater). Although I did read the novels by Anne Rice, I only could remember three things: Louis, Lestat and the passion (both good and bad) between the two. What made me really engaged about this film was not because it was scary in content. I was actually more into Louis’ humanity, his efforts to abstain from human blood, and his eventual search for those who were like him. That romanticism was reflected into the elegant designs of each room in the 18th century to the dark corners of the catacombs. Another thing that was interesting was Kirsten Dunst. As an adult actress, she bores me to death because every emotion she wants to portray on screen feels the same. But in this film, she had range: she was quite magical, menacing, fascinating all rolled into one. For me, “Interview with the Vampire” is a great vampire film because it makes the argument that vampires have the capacity to choose to be good instead of just being one-dimensional fiends who crave blood and live for centuries. Although necessary to paint the nature of vampire, the gore, the violence, and the evil were secondary. It was consistent, thrilling, and very interesting.

1
Nov

Halloween


Halloween (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 independent “Halloween” masterpiece will forever be one of my favorite films. With such a microscale budget, Carpenter, the production team and the actors managed to accomplish so much. “Halloween” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode who, among with her friends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), was stalked by a masked killer named Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Michael killed his sister when he was six years old and was sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael’s madness became much worse over the years and he escaped the night before Halloween 1978 to return to his hometown in Haddonfield, Illinois.

This picture invented the slasher flick that plagued the 1980’s because of its craft. The first scene of this film was an absolute milestone because we saw Michael kill his sister through his eyes as he wore a clown mask. The way he grabbed the knife from the kitchen drawer, walked up the stairs, and went for the kill was terrifying because it was done by a child without any sort of reason (or emotion) behind his actions. After the murder, when his parents discovered him with the knife, it looked as if he had no idea what he had done, like he was possessed by the devil.

Fast-forward to 1978, we got to meet Laurie and two of her friends. Laurie, obviously different from the other two because she’s actually interested in books and not so much interested in boys (or maybe her shyness often got the best of her), was established as the protagonist. She cared about the children she babysat (unlike the other two) by letting them have fun on Halloween, such as carving pumpkins, making popcorn, and watching scary rated R movies on TV, as long as they remained safe and refrained from scaring each other. In broad daylight, we were able to see Michael following them around–appearing in an area one minute and disappearing the next–something that slasher movies of today rarely do. (Not all stalkers only come out at night after all.) There were also very amusing scenes between the three friends, which I thought was a good move from Carpenter because it made them very relatable. That was important because we all know that Michael would eventually go after them. Why was he obsessed with the three girls? We don’t exactly know. Maybe he saw qualities of sister in them or maybe not. To me, that’s why I thought the picture worked: it retained elements of mystery and it was up to us to draw our own conclusions.

The soundtrack was something I would never forget because it was downright creepy and it set the tone of certain scenes. A particular track was specific to an event that was about to transpire so we came to know what to expect (a stalking scene, a false alarm, or going for the kill). However, the brilliance of it was we don’t know when exactly the scare or “Boo!” moment would happen. When they finally do happen, they come with maximum effect due to excellent timing. Unlike most modern horror films, the soundtrack in this movie was used as little as possible. It also means that Carpenter knew when to use silence. Sometimes silence meant nothing but sometimes silence meant something really bad was about to happen.

My absolute favorite scene was the showdown between Laurie and Michael in the last twenty minutes. It still gives me the chills whenever I watch Laurie crossing the street to go into the house where two of her friends were murdered. Since the lights were all off yet she was getting phone calls from the house pretty much all night, at first she thought they were playing a joke on her. But when she finally reached the bedroom, she realized that none of it was a joke. While she was busy entertaining the kids across the street, Michael was busy with the body count. There was also that scene when she finally got out from the neighbor’s house (not an easy feat considering Michael blocked the exits) as she tried screaming for help but no one would open their doors to offer her refuge. She then had no choice but to go back to the house where she was babysitting… but she couldn’t find the keys in her pocket.

There’s a plethora of social commentaries that could be drawn from this film, which were immortalized as clichés in future slasher flicks like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the like. However, I’m not going to mention them all here because I think it’s best for you to try to see them yourself. But I do want to mention how impressed I was with how the concept of the “boogeyman” evolved from a simple folklore (when the kids tried to scare each other) to a personification of evil that one cannot kill (when Laurie tried to kill Michael time and time again but he always managed to “return from the dead”). The concept of the boogeyman finally culminated in the last minute of the film when Laure conceded, “It WAS the boogeyman” and the movie showed us familiar places with Michael breathing in the background–places that have been touched by evil and would never be the same again.

For those who have seen a plethora of movies, “Halloween” is almost always on their list of being one of the best horror films ever made. It’s not difficult to understand why considering how much it impacted the collective media unconscious. I consider it one of the best movies I’ve seen, not just in the horror genre, because of how it made me feel when I first watched it. There was a certain darkness to it that shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And when I see it again from time to time on television as Halloween nears, I may smile during certain scenes and not look as scared as before. But the same thoughts regarding “What if I was in her shoes?” quickly flood my mind and I can’t help but feel affected. Though it may not scare you because you’re used to seeing blood delivered in gallons in modern horror movies (personally, I think blood is just gross and not at all scary), it would most likely earn your respect for being well ahead of its time in terms of craft and context.

27
Sep

Orphan


Orphan (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I was pleasantly surprised how effective this psychological thriller was. With a running time of two hours, it was able to build up the tension it needed to truly scare the audience when the evil child began to unravel what she was capable of. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Orphan” was about a mother who is still mourning for the loss of her baby (Vera Farmiga), a father who wants to help the family move on from a tragic loss (Peter Sarsgaard), and their decision to adopt a precocious girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) to join their family. Little did they know that Esther has a plethora of secrets of her own and it would take a great deal of effort and energy (and a whole lot of convincing) to unravel just one of them. It is really difficult for me to say any more about this film without giving away the final twist. But let me just say that this movie did not cheat (i.e. result into supernatural explanation or fancy camera work) to achieve that twist so I was impressed. This picture definitely reminded me of “The Good Son” and “The Omen,” just because a child was a villain in both. However, I think this film was on a different level of excitement because, unlike “The Good Son,” the villain’s methods are much more graphic yet insidious, and unlike “The Omen,” it is actually grounded in realism and that made the picture more haunting. I also liked the fact that the other two kids in the family (Jimmy Bennett and Aryana Engineer) had important roles that drove the movie forward. If I were to nitpick, the only thing I thought the movie could have worked on was the history regarding Esther. By the end of the film, I felt like there were a lot more that the audiences did not find out about her and what made her the way she is. Other than Farmiga as the mother who no one believes in and labels as paranoid (which brought “Rosemary’s Baby” to mind), Fuhrman is a stand out. I want to see her in more movies and her range of acting because she made me believe that a child was capable of doing all those horrible things. Even though “child-killer” movies have been done before, I enjoyed this flick because I could not help but imagine that if I was in the mother’s situation, I would do absolutely anything to keep that evil child away from me and my family.