Red Riding Hood (2011)
★ / ★★★★
By making appropriate sacrifices, a small village located deep in the woods was able to co-exist with a werewolf. But just when Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) accepted Peter’s (Shiloh Fernandez) proposal to run away together, her sister was found dead. The villagers claimed she had been killed by a werewolf. Written by David Johnson and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, “Red Riding Hood” was a poor, hormone-driven re-imagining of the classic tale. The main character was an embarrassingly typical damsel-in-distress. Given that the film was targeted toward young girls, I was disturbed and irked by the fact that Valerie defined her happiness in being with a man. Her main problem, despite her friends and neighbors dropping like flies, was choosing between Peter, her childhood friend, and Henry (Max Irons), the man she was arranged to marry. When she found out her sister had passed away, I was aghast when she seemed to be more worried in the idea that her sister kept secrets from her. She lacked common sense and I wanted to shake her. Seyfried, a wonderful actress, was not given anything to work with other than to look cute, sad, and scared. The same applied to Gary Oldman as the priest, Father Solomon, who was hired to kill the werewolf. The picture often relied on telling rather than showing. Father Solomon was discussed to have had first-hand experience in dealing with a werewolf and the confrontation, which led to the death of his wife, made him vengeful. Why not give us the images instead of simply listening to his words? He had extreme, almost totalitarian-like, ways of extracting information just so he could get his hands on the creature. Where did he learn what he knew about werewolves? Was he successful in catching other werewolves from other lands? We didn’t know much about him other than he was a very angry man. Because he was angry, he was bad. Despite being framed as the villain, he was the most interesting character because he had what other characters didn’t have: edge. We were given a list of suspects: Valerie’s lovers, grandmother (Julie Christie), parents (Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke), and the boy with a so-called twisted speech (Cole Heppell). We were given one clue: the werewolf had dark brown eyes. The problem: every person Valerie suspected had dark brown eyes. How were we supposed to narrow down the suspects if we weren’t given more information? The picture didn’t even work from a simple detective angle. After the reveal, I felt incredibly underwhelmed and angry because I felt like I was cheated off my time. “Red Riding Hood” was plagued with destitute writing and monotonous direction. It lost the essence of “Little Red Riding Hood.” That is, the dangers in conversing with strangers. Instead, its core was really about having a boyfriend.
★ / ★★★★
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) were graduate students who became increasingly involved in a series of murders in the projects. Word went around that if one said “Candyman” five times while alone in the bathroom, Candyman (Tony Todd) would appear and kill the daring summoner in the most gruesome way possible. Was it simply an urban legend designed to scare those who lived in the violent neighborhood or was there something darker that needed to be explored and revealed? Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, “Candyman” failed to generate genuine scares because it neglected to define what was fantasy and what was reality, and it was plagued by characters who were supposedly smart but almost always chose the stupid decision when the occasion called for it. Take Helen for example. Despite the murders, she decided to drag her friend to the scene of the crime without taking any sort of precaution. She had no knowledge about the people who lived in the projects or how to effectively communicate with those connected to the infamous murders. She only had one thing in mind: She had to take pictures in order to avoid a “boring thesis.” Nevermind the men who could easily get their way with them. Nevermind offending those who just wanted to move on from the grizzly incidents. When Helen seemed to descent into madness, there were a plethora of unintentionally funny moments. As she awoke covered in blood with no memory of how she got there, she decided to pick up a meat cleaver next to a beheaded dog. Did it not occur to her that what she just touched could potentially be the murder weapon and she was getting her fingerprints all over it? And were we expected to believe that a baby that Candyman abducted could live for over a month without food or water? After all, the film eventually implied that Candyman was only real in Helen’s mind. There were many glaring inconsistencies so I was constantly taken out of the experience. The writing was weak and the direction was no better. There were more than a handful of unnecessary shots of bees which were designed to give us the creeps, Candyman’s face appeared on the screen to make us jump out of our seats, and nonsensical decisions placed too conveniently to trigger one set of events to another. Directed by Bernard Rose, “Candyman” lacked genuine tension and suspenseful sequences that basic horror films should have. It would have been an entirely different experience if the writing was more focused and, more importantly, if the graduate students thought and acted like excellent detectives instead of blond sorority girls typically slayed early on in standard slasher flicks.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I was surprised by how much this film was grounded in reality even though the trailers sold it off as a typical “based on a true story” demonic possession. Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan star as the parents who choose to move in a house with a creepy history because their son’s (Kyle Gallner) cancer treatment facility is nearby. It’s not long until spirits start to get themselves known to Gallner’s character in truly horrifying manners. I really admired the first thirty minutes of this horror flick because things that most people would consider as supernatural are things that can happen to cancer patients going through various therapies (i.e. hallucinations). I wish Peter Cornwell, the director, decided to keep straddling the line between science and the supernatural because it’s very reminiscent of “The Exorcist.” To me, the closer a horror film is to reality, its resonance after I leave the theater is amplified many more times as opposed to a horror movie that’s so unbelievable to the point where it loses its power. Unfortunately, this movie is the latter. Another frustration that I had with it was the film’s use of soundtrack to cue that something terrifying is happening on screen. I was really taken out of the moment whenever the soundtrack would be heard; most of the time, I don’t like outside cues to tell me how I should be feeling especially when the obvious is being shown on the screen. Its scares would’ve been more effective if there was less jarring creepy sounds–let the creaks of each footstep or a body hitting furnitures do all the work. After all, this is a horror film about a house with a questionable past (in the least) so the-less-the-better technique could’ve done wonders. As for its acting, I thought everyone did pretty good but I felt like Gallner was holding back. I’ve seen him in several television shows and movies so I know that he could’ve done more. Still, “The Haunting in Connecticut” had three or four solid scares so I’m giving it a mediocre rating. However, it would’ve been so much better if the booming soundtrack during scares was kept at a minimum or was not integrated at all.