Tag: the shining

A Cure for Wellness

Cure for Wellness, A (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness” is yet another example of a horror picture that boasts beautifully haunting images but, upon closer inspection, is actually hollow on the inside. If presented only with select individual scenes, it would pique our interest and we’d yearn to discover its deepest mysteries. But with a running time of almost two and a half hours, it is instead padded with scenes that do not consistently push the story in the forward direction. We get a sneaky feeling that its many ideas often get in the way of properly executing a concise horror-mystery with something important to say about modern society’s relationship with pseudoscience despite well-researched, scientific information being available right on our fingertips.

Its most memorable moments involves the protagonist being in an enclosed space. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious employee of a financial firm tasked by the board of directors to acquire a superior from a sanitarium in Switzerland, being stuck in a sensory deprivation tank as eels slowly surround his vulnerable near-naked body is what nightmares are made of. And yet despite the terror happening inside of the tank, there is a dark, macabre humor unspooling right outside it. It is a classic setup involving gasps of horror turning into laughter, vice-versa. Clearly, Verbinski understands how to execute an effective action sequence that plays upon the audience’s deepest fears. If only the rest of the film functioned on this level.

Part of the problem is it feels as though it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” emphasis is placed on establishing a creepy, slithery atmosphere. Almost every person Lockhart meets in the Swiss Alps is highly suspicious. Nearly each room wishes to whisper its history. Knickknacks on desks and files inside drawers beg to be explored or read into. And yet, for some reason, it is stuck on delivering one hallucinatory moment after another. We get it: There must be something in the drinking water. But if we cannot trust our own protagonist in an increasingly untrustworthy place, what is there to hang onto?

I found the answers to the mystery to be generic, something I’ve seen too often in smaller pictures and have been told better in those movies. There is no surprise to be had here in terms of revelations; one simply has to listen closely and pay attention to whom the camera, other than Lockhart, tends to give the suspicious eye. But perhaps I’ve seen one too many mysteries, especially on the television show “Criminal Minds,” that the denouement feels rather trite, spineless, safe, television-like.

While performances are solid all around, one cannot help but feel an aching disappointment (and frustration) especially because it seems Verbinski had access to nearly every element that could help to make a highly watchable, spine-tingling horror film. It would have been interesting if Verbinski had only less than ten million dollars to tell the same story. I bet that the results would have been less beautiful visually but with a far more interesting internal details.

Room 237

Room 237 (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Room 237,” directed by Rodney Ascher, is a documentary that commands immediate appeal, at least for me, because “The Shining” is one of the movies I revisit just about every year. There is something about Kubrick’s film that demands to seen, to be experienced again and again, from the sinister space the director creates—both in terms of physicality, the interiors of the hotel, or headspace, the mental breakdown of Jack Torrance—to stylistic flourishes such as the famous unbroken shot of Danny big wheeling around the hallways of the Overlook Hotel as an increasing sense of dread runs parallel with every turn he takes.

The documentary is not about the horror classic. It is about people who love the film so much and have seen the picture so many times that they began to see patterns and felt compelled to construct themes that may or may not be there in the first place. It is about how these elements snowball into theories—some very wild—and how the theories, through word-of-mouth, have become a part of the collective unconscious of those who admire or find the film enigmatic, a puzzle to be solved.

Various unseen narrators—Juli Kearns, Jay Weidner, Bill Blakemore, John Fell Ryan, Geoffrey Cocks—present entertaining theories. I enjoyed how one of them pointed out that one can find a detail of impossibility in just about every scene. For example, a television is up and running but it has no cord that is plugged into an electric source. Another shows a room that appears to receive sunlight through a window… but the layout of the hotel suggests that the room is surrounded by other rooms. Now, I had seen Kubrick’s film at least fifteen times. I like to consider myself as an observant person so I was surprised—and tickled—that I never noticed such details.

Perhaps the most far out theory involves the movie being meant to be seen forward and backward. That is, images are superimposed so that the story is told from the beginning (moving forward) as well as from the end (moving backward). Certain frames captured are genuinely creepy—or silly, depending on one’s perspective—like Jack Torrance’s face looking like a clown when superimposed with the shot of two murdered girls in the hallway.

Though we never see the narrators’ faces, their voices are friendly and welcoming. It is important that they do not sound like they are lecturing the audience. After all, even if they have managed to link numerous elements that seem to support their theories, no matter how improbable, not one of them knows—or will ever get a chance to know—Kubrick’s intentions. Instead, it is appropriate that they sound like fans of the movie who are open to discussion even if a person disagrees with their proposed ideas.

Is the movie really about the genocide of Indian-Americans? The Holocaust? Demons being sexually attracted to humans? How Kubrick helped to fake the Apollo moon footage? I don’t know. Nor do I care. What I do know is that if a movie manages to inspire or get people talking for several decades, then the filmmakers have done something right.

The Shining

Shining, The (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) gets an interview at the Overlook Hotel for the open caretaker position. The job starts before the start of winter and lasts till May which is perfect for Jack because he feels isolation is what he needs in order to organize ideas for his upcoming novel. Although the manager of the hotel, Mr. Ullman (Barry Nelson), admits that being a caretaker is not physically demanding, from running the boiler to turning on the heater in select areas of the building, it can be quite a challenge psychologically. Mr. Ullman confirms that in the winter of 1970, the seclusion has gotten so bad that the caretaker at the time murdered his wife and two daughters with an ax. Jack laughs with assurance, claiming that nothing like that will happen during his watch.

Directed with great eye and execution by Stanley Kubrick, “The Shining” has made a permanent imprint on my subconscious and imagination that just about every year, I find myself dreaming about it. It is foreboding and beautiful from the moment it begins with an aerial view of Jack’s car running toward the hotel, accompanied by hair-raising gothic horror music, until the final shot showing a curious picture from July 4, 1921.

The picture starts to gain momentum when Jack and his family are given a tour of the hotel. The lobby is gorgeous, boasting framed photos of important visitors as well as American-Indian designs on carpets and wall tapestries, the kitchen is enormous with numerous metallic utensils and equipment, the freezer is meat galore, and the storage room is teeming with sweet goodies. But the Overlook Hotel’s beauty is clearly meant to attract visitors from all over the world. And just like all places, it has a history. This one happens to sit on an Indian burial ground and Danny (Danny Lloyd), Jack’s young son, can feel that this place, despite its beauty, offers something rotten and awful.

Particularly memorable is a critical scene between Danny and the hotel’s head cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), because it showcases the director’s characteristic laser focus on what needs to be delivered and how to go about it. Although the conversation is constantly evolving, from Danny’s imaginary friend named Tony to what might be hiding in room 237, its crux is what having the “shine” means.

The casting of Crothers is genius because he commands a voice that oozes wisdom seemingly without effort, the kind of voice that children would be attuned to listen to and really hear what needs to be said. We are the children in this story not only because of the mystery and hidden horrors it offers but also in terms of the hotel’s space and structure. Kubrick places us into this specific place and we are in the middle of it, marveling at its enormity.

Shelley Duvall, playing Jack’s terrified wife, gets unfair criticism for being too dramatic that she becomes ineffective in the role. I am often at a loss when such a critique comes up because I cannot imagine anyone else playing Wendy Torrance. I believed Duvall as a character who is fragile, weak, and easily bullied by her husband. Scenes where Wendy is required to go toe-to-toe against her increasingly erratic—and psychotic—husband offer wonderful entertainment. There is humor, horror, and grandiosity in both performances. Without Duvall’s constant hyperventilation, while looking incredibly pale as if she were in a permanent state of shock, Nicholson’s performance would not have had an effective sounding board. Take away one and the other loses resonance.

“The Shining” offers an ascending sentiment of dread—one scene literally taking place on a staircase as Jack announces that he plans to bash his wife’s head in. To discuss its technical brilliance, especially with its utilization of the Steadicam during the hallway sequences, is beyond the scope of this review.

But I will a point of saying this: The picture is the antithesis of so-called mind-boggling movies that “require” to be seen several times for audiences to fully understand and appreciate its mysteries. It can be seen only once and although it will leave the viewer with questions, the viewer is likely to be satisfied. In my case, however, I make sure to revisit the picture annually to relish the consummate filmmaking.

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Since their boss was on vacation in Barbados, Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) thought it would be a great idea to capture a concrete paranormal activity, via audio and video recordings, in the Yankee Pedlar Inn, its last weekend being open for business due to a lack of customers. The place had a reputation of being haunted by the spirit of Madeline O’Malley, a woman who committed suicide after her fiancé stood her up on their wedding day. The inn had only three guests: a woman (Alison Bartlett) with her son (Jake Ryan) in tow because she had a fight with her husband and an actress, Leanne (Kelly McGillis), who was supposed to attend a convention. During Claire’s graveyard shift, she might just get her wish of encountering a ghost as she started to hear sounds of someone playing the piano on the first floor. What I found most curious about “The Innkeepers,” written and directed by Ti West, was its willingness to spend time with its characters instead of focusing on delivering one scare after another. Because their job was not much of a challenge, Luke and Claire played practical jokes on one another and eventually we began to question whether their friendship was strictly professional. Both the flirtation and the old-fashioned inn had its charms to the point where I started to think it may not be too bad actually working there. Claire and Luke seemed to be fun people to hang out with, mainly in that they were able to deliver and endure pranks, and the place reminded me of an infant version of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” By focusing on the minutiae of the job: delivering towels, escorting a guest to his room, taking out the trash, our subconscious were able to create a mental map of the haunted inn. Inevitably, when the characters started to run away after encountering something rather unexplainable, we had an idea of where they may be running toward. The picture was so detail-oriented that we were even given a chance to explore, even for just a bit, Luke’s website, an archive of paranormal happenings in the Yankee Pedlar. The website, too, had its charm, resembling a now-extinct Expage template that reminded me of my former Lizzie McGuire website, tacky icons and all. The scares were scant but most were executed effectively. I enjoyed that they had variation. Sometimes we were able to see a ghost in the background. At times, though, it was front and center. But then there were other times when only the characters saw something. For instance, in one of the most effectively drawn-out scenes, Luke faced Claire as they sat in the basement and summoned Madeline. Claire began to look increasingly terrified and Luke asked, even though he might have had an idea, what was wrong. We were left to wonder whether it was just another prank or if there really was something behind Luke. However, the ending could have used some work not necessarily in terms of content, though it could have been much stronger, but pacing. It felt too rushed, Horror 101, which did not match the elegance and organic feel of the rest of the picture. Nevertheless, “The Innkeepers” was a nice treat because it treated us like we didn’t have ADD. It’s a fine example that subtlety mixed with charm goes a long way.


Scanners (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★

Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a homeless man, was drugged by men in a shopping mall after he gave a woman seizures with his mind. He was taken to Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a scientist who worked with a company called ConSec, to teach Cameron how to control his strange but powerful abilities. There, he learned that he was a scanner, someone who had the ability to become one with another entity that contained a nervous system, not simply a person who had the ability to read minds. Eventually, Cameron was given the assignment to hunt down a rogue scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) and stop his plan of world domination by eliminating human beings sans gifts unique to scanners. Written and directed by David Cronenberg, “Scanners” had a strong concept which used spy movies as an inspiration to tell a fascinating science fiction film. It wasn’t just about one chosen man trying to stop another driven by an insane crusade. It was also about voiceless underground groups easily used as a scapegoat by those in charge, the government’s experimental programs involving espionage and advanced weaponry, and the corporations that benefited from lives that had been unnecessarily sacrificed. The concept was as strong as the actors’ performances. Ironside stood out as the villainous Revok. He reminded me of a less deranged Jack Nicholson in movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” He had just the right dosage of insanity in the eyes and a creepy voice to match his dark ambitions. Meanwhile, Lack played a character that we couldn’t help but root for. Although he didn’t know who he was, he forged on in order to find the truth. He strived to protect those not unlike him, like Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill), scanners who were forced to live underground while trying to find their own versions of a peace of mind. Ironically, his lack of reason to keep moving forward was exactly the reason why we wanted to see him succeed. “Scanners” was without a doubt a B-movie which unfairly came to be known as a movie with exploding heads. Yes, some scenes were grotesque because Cronenberg wasn’t afraid to show purposefully fake-looking blood seeping from a human body and guts being thrown on walls. But there was only about two or three scenes that featured exploding heads. The film was actually philosophical, intelligent, and unpredictable. It had great focus in exploring the relationship between the human body and technology that came to influence Cronenberg’s later projects. Those searching for atypical work will most likely found “Scanners” enjoyable.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

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.


Scream (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) was left home alone because her father had to travel for business. That probably wasn’t a good idea because one of her friends, Casey (Drew Barrymore), had just been butchered by Ghost Face, a masked figure who had a penchant for calling women and asking about their favorite scary movie. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, “Scream” solified its place in the horror genre because it successfully parodied slasher flicks that plagued the 70’s and 80’s without becoming another forgettable bloodbath. Or worse, turning into something it wanted to poke fun of. Half the fun of this film was that the characters had seen a bunch of scary movies. References from Paul Lynch’s “Prom Night” to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” most of the characters knew that running into a dark room and asking, “Who’s there?” meant a gruesome death. And deservingly so. Horror movies, in essence, is survival of the fittest. The colorful characters were aware of the rules (yet ironically breaking them) and by acknowledging such rules, the audiences had a feeling that anything could happen. Everybody was a suspect. There was Casey’s father who had gone missing, an ambitious reporter named Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) who was willing to do whatever necessary to deliver the breaking news first, and Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) who was never taken seriously as a cop because of his boyish good looks. Sidney’s friends were suspects, too. Sidney’s boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich) was very frustrated because she wouldn’t give up her virginity, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) and his love for horror pictures was a red flag, Sidney’s sassy friend (Rose McGowan) was perhaps too supportive of her, and Stuart (Matthew Lillard) was just too strange and energetic–perhaps he needed an extracurricular activity which involved running around and cutting people up. Or maybe Sidney was just losing her mind because she had not yet moved on from her mother’s murder which happened to be exactly a year ago. What made the film even better was the finer details. Some of the characters’ names were references to other famous horror movie characters (like Billy’s last name being Loomis, a nod to Dr. Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”) while others were chuckle-inducing images (like the school janitor’s name being Fred and wearing red and green striped shirt, a wink at Freddy Krueger in Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street”). It was clear that the director loved the movies he cited. By highlighting the unspoken rules and exposing their formulaic silliness, Craven reminded us why we enjoyed being scared and then laughing at ourselves (after a couple of days) for being so scared once we got home to the point where we rushed in turning on all of the lights so we could feel safer. “This is not a movie,” Sidney claimed. I wouldn’t be too sure.