Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Sally (Bailee Madison) was sent by her mother to live with her father (Guy Pearce), Alex, in Rhode Island while he and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes), Kim, restored the historic Blackwood mansion. Despite the manor house being dark and creepy, it wasn’t haunted by ghosts. It was, however, home to little creatures in the basement whose diet consisted of children’s bones and teeth. Based on the screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” reached a synergy between horrific and fantastic elements. Although Sally had the tendency to mope about, we loved her because she was sassy, and we cared for her because her childlike curiosity often got the best of her. It could have taken the convenient path of simply putting children in peril to deliver cheap thrills, but the material strived to be more than that. It provided us with a proper background story that involved Blackwood (Garry McDonald) and his desperation to save his eight-year-old son from the teeth-hungry creatures. Like the best horror movies, I found myself wanting to know more about the source of horror and why the antagonists were motivated to do the things they did. The jump-out-of-your-seat and cringe-in-your-seat moments were earned. Naturally, Alex didn’t believe in her daughter’s stories. He believed the stories were a product of adjustment issues. After all, Sally felt like she wasn’t wanted by her mother, claiming that she had been given away. It was expected that the father would eventually realize that the creatures from her daughter’s imagination were actually real. It was a matter of exactly when. Perhaps as he looked through a keyhole and a needle was waiting on the other side? When Sally took pictures using a polaroid camera during an important dinner? It teased our expectations and the answer was given to us when we least expected it. However, I wish the filmmakers showed less of how the creature looked like. It didn’t help that their bodies were revealed early on. It didn’t give us time to speculate. The teeth-lovers were CGI and I wasn’t too convinced that the animation complemented the gothic interiors of the mansion. It would have been just as effective if we only saw the creatures’ glowing eyes as they hid in darkness from under the bed and staring ravenously on the other side of the hallway. Furthermore, Kim could have been more developed. She was Sally’s eventual mother figure (rather than an evil stepmother) who was reluctant in her ability to parent. That struggle was interesting and an exploration of her feelings of inadequacy would have added another layer of emotional resonance. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” directed by Troy Nixey, was accompanied by a gorgeous art direction and cinematography. Like the towering Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” it made me want to explore its interiors as well as its grounds.
The Changeling (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★
Initially, I thought this was going to be a ghost story like the truly horrific “The Shining” (which I was excited for), but toward the end it ended up being more like “The Ring” (which I wasn’t as excited for). Directed by Peter Medak, “The Changeling” was about a man who loves to play the piano (George C. Scott) and his grief for losing his wife and daughter. After about four months of their death, with the help of a friend (Trish Van Devere), he decided to move in to a creepy historical mansion to work on his music and to move on from the tragedy. However, the house would not let him work or heal because it would make strange noises, play the piano when he left the room, open the door ever so slowly as he composed music, and throw his daughter’s ball down the stairs… even after he seemingly got rid of it. Those truly scary moments (aided by a haunting soundtrack) made this film worth watching. However, I did not enjoy the last third as much because it reminded me of “The Ring” (even though I enjoyed that movie). Granted, this was made first but the whole well being buried under a house was too much of a distraction for me so it definitely took me out of the experience. If I were to pick a favorite scene in this picture, it would hands down has to be the séance scene when Scott, the medium, and others finally made contact with the ghost. It was done in such a scary manner which reminded me of the exorcism scene in “The Exorcist.” I tried not to blink in fear that if I closed my eyes, something would suddenly appear in a dark corner in the living room (I saw the movie with all the lights out). I’ve heard all too often that this is not known by many, especially my generation. I think it definitely deserves to be seen, especially the fans of horror films, because it was able to generate genuine scares without sacrificing the story. This is a very good haunted house picture that could have been as good as “The Shining” if it had been longer (perhaps a tour of the deeply atmospheric house?) and the whole bit about the well was eliminated. But then again I’m just being picky about the difference between “good” and “great” (to warn those who are expecting “The Shining”-level filmmaking). Don’t get me wrong, this is still a must-see.
The Big Feast (1973)
★ / ★★★★
“La Grande Bouffe,” or “The Big Feast,” directed by Marco Ferreri, was such a huge disappointment for me because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, especially from critics and bloggers that I look up to for recommendations. Since my expectations were a bit hyped up, while actually watching it, it was such a letdown because the characters that came from different backgrounds–a pilot (Marcello Mastroianni), a chef (Ugo Tognazzi), a judge (Philippe Noiret) and a television star (Michel Piccoli)–were so uninteresting for such an interesting premise. The four friends hired prostitutes and had orgies in a massive getaway mansion as they ate more food than they could digest in one sitting. Just when I thought that the story would evolve into something more, I felt like it actually tried to stay in one place and featured more images of sex and gluttony. Admittedly, I’m the kind of person that can endure watching pretty much all kinds of sexual acts but this film made me wince repeatedly. I’m not quite sure if that was the kind of reaction that the director had it mind or if it was supposed to be genuinely sensual or erotic. But since it’s a dark comedy, I’m guessing it’s the former so perhaps, in a way, it succeeded on that level. Morever, for having such a group of supposedly smart gentlemen, they sure acted like adolescent morons for most of the picture. I didn’t see any scenes where any of them offered some sort of insight that made me think of their situation (or any situation for that matter) any differently. I felt like writers just had this one idea of excess but never quite broken from that in order to reach the next level. (And for a picture that ran for more than two hours, there was absolutely no excuse for that.) I also did not appreciate the slapstick that involved scenes with flatulence and excrement. I’m not a big fan of slapstick in the first place because they tend to rub me the wrong way so this film became that much worse in my book. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the final scenes that revealed the fate of the four main characters felt completely forced and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It was a complete waste of my time and I almost wished I never saw it.