Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paranormal Entity (2009)

Have you heard about this picture? It was all the rage back during Halloween 2009. We got ghosts and shit caught on tape. Also, it's a "found footage" type picture so we know that most of the people in this thing end up either missing, dead or possibly both. I believe this picture has already been assigned the "masterpiece" label. And, to think it only cost 11 thousand dollars. This thing, in rough cut form (could it get any rougher?), scared Steven Spielberg shitless. He thought the tape he took home to watch was actually haunted. Can you believe that shit? Anyway, he embraced it, recommended it to some producers, and the rest, as they say, is....oh, wait....this isn't that movie? Shit, I was pretty sure it was...Oh, that thing was Paranormal Activity? This is the one inspired by the 1982 Sydney J. Furie picture about the ghost that rapes Barabara Hershey? Yeah, I remember that thing. That was a pretty good movie what with invisible hands squeezing Hershey's breasts, etc. Good effects work.

Well, I have to confess that I watched Paranormal Activity a while back. Maybe even reviewed the sucker. I think I liked it. This thing is similar only the "entity" takes his crush on the female character a bit further in that he actually sexually assaults her. The lesson I learned here is that entities rape, activities don't rape. Also, Paranormal Entity was directed by The Asylum who is known for producing "mock-busters" (thanks wikipedia). A "mock-buster" is an homage (insta-ripoff?) to mega hollywood blockbusters. For instance, he did Snakes on a Train which is funny since I thought Snakes on a Plane tanked at the box office. Also, he did Transmorphers, The Terminators, Street Racer, Cloverville, that megashark versus giant squid movie, etc. The Asylum (I assume he was a wrestler or something) has a pretty solid track record. What's interesting about Paranormal Entity, however, is that he's paying "loving" "homage" to a movie that cost peanuts to begin with. Usually, he takes on shit that cost millions of dollars and so his works tend to suffer in comparison. Here, he's probably got a budget that exceeds that of the original. This shit's impossible to fuck up is the point I'm making.

By god, The Asylum has almost done it. I'm not gonna say Entity is better than Activity. I will say that it doesn't embarrass itself. Both pictures have amateur actors and I'd actually argue that the ones in Entity acquit themselves a little better. They're a little more likable. We got three main characters in Entity. A mother who likes her drink. A daughter who looks to be in her twenties and is always walking around in a bra and panties. And a son who also appears to be in his twenties and is constantly filming his sister in her bra and panties. Also, there's some sort of entity, but we never see it. Also, some kind of parapsychologist shows up at the end for about a minute. The premise goes as follows: Entity inhabits house, fucks with the sister, knocks shit over, tracks ash on the ceiling, etc. There's some hinting of assaults of a sexual nature against the sister (and later, a little more than "hinting"). A doctor tells them to document the shit. The son sets up cameras all over the house and also walks around with one. During the day scenes we got some bickering and then the night scenes (with everyone asleep except for the entity and the cameras) involve shit falling off walls, doors slamming, tvs turning themselves on, possible entity rape, etc.

I must be pretty fucking easy cause I didn't hate this thing. It was like watching a solid episode of "Ghost Hunters" only if one of the ghost hunters got assaulted. Sexually. The effects aren't quite as grandiose as they were in Paranormal Activity. We got no scene where a demon tracks three toed footprints in the bedroom and no Ouija boards catch on fire. All the cool shit happens off camera. There's even a mention of the girl getting dragged out of bed but that took place off camera and in a hotel (another difference between this picture and Activity is that they actually tried to leave). There is a scene where the son (I don't remember any of their names, sorry. I think there was a subtitle to the movie that gives the family name....the something something murder tapes....wait, just scrolled to the top. "The Finley Murder Tapes". There you go)....anyway, there's a scene where the son finds footprints on the ceiling. Holy shit, this entity walks on the fucking ceiling. Another difference between entities and activities is that entities walk on the fucking ceiling. He inspects the shit the entity tracks in though and discovers it's ash. Uh oh...he goes downstairs and finds the urn that contained his fathers ashes smashed to the ground. Oh yeah, the father died in an accident about a year before. The story goes the mother tried to communicate with the father and instead invited in an evil presence, an entity.

Anyway, that's one way of looking at it but I think the picture actually hints at something far more sinister. Like, this family seems pretty messed up. The mother's a drunk. The daughter sleeps in a barren room, with dark walls, and a solitary crucifix hanging over her bed. She's overly morose. I don't know, the picture of the dad by the urn was a little creepy is all I'm saying. I'm not calling paranormal social services to come take him away from his daughter, not yet anyway. Why do we automatically have to go blaming some kind of evil demon? Too much finger pointing in the direction of where we think evil demons are standing. Shouldn't ghost dad, at least, be a suspect?

So, I didn't hate this picture but it's not perfect either. Too many scenes are direct lifts from Paranormal Activity. Besides the raping, and the hinting at a history of child abuse, there's nothing original here. Barely a reason for it to exist. We got the scene where the bed sheets miraculously lift off a sleeping woman. We got a scene where a seemingly possessed woman gets up and walks around and even calls for someone (in this case, her brother). It's all done pretty well but still feels a little "been there, done that". There's a great (and scary) scene towards the end involving the mother which I won't spoil here. The ending feels too abrupt but somehow, maybe that's fitting. The psychic guy stops by, tells them everything's gonna be alright and then suddenly the footage jumps ahead to a (SPOILER!!!!!!) closeup of the psychic dead on the floor, the son passed out apparently, and the daughter screaming as she's being assaulted in the bedroom, a "what the fuck just happened" scene if there ever was one. So, I got to hand it to The Asylum for this one. He is getting better. I'd like to see him tackle even more small, intimate, projects in the future. How about The Asylum's A Serious Guy? Maybe The Asylum's A Single Guy? Or, how about The Asylum's Up In The Sky? I don't know, I'm not very good at coming up with movie ideas.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil is a brilliant and loving recreation of classic 70s and 80s horror movies covering shit like Suspiria, Rosemary's Baby, some slasher shit, maybe The Beyond, various other stuff, etc. What Ti West (the writer, director, and editor) has done is beyond extraordinary. He's created an authentic period piece (down to hair styles, clothing, cars, news reports, phones) and also filmed the thing using the techniques of the period (including the fantastic opening credits) on what must have been a pea sized budget. What we have here is a picture evoking, not only the best American horror films of that era, but also the strongest of the Italian giallos (from masters such as Argento, Fulci, Bava, etc). This movie puts modern shit to shame by ditching the irony, focusing on the atmospherics, giving the audience a nice slow burn that they all so clearly.....ah hell, I can't do it. What Ti West did was basically remake all the boring parts from those movies we love. Let's face it, the majority of those pictures (I still love them) have long stretches of tedium. The House of the Devil is a glorious recreation of that tedium.

The picture gets off to a good start by introducing us to the lovely Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue), a sophomore at a small town college looking to improve her living situation (dorm mate snores and has sex lots). She meets up with landlady Dee Wallace (whose only reason for being in the picture is to remind us how in love with the genre this film really is) who agrees to give her the apartment if she can come up with three hundred bucks up front. Sam's only got $84 in her bank account which might be a problem. She has until monday. Luckily, she notices flyers strewn around campus looking for a babysitter. She calls the number. The calmly disheveled voice on the other end of the phone tells her to meet him at student services. He doesn't show up. That's that I guess. Also, she used a pay phone if you weren't sure this was taking place during another time.

Anyway, guy calls her back. He's in a bind. His other sitter bailed. Would she be willing to come out tonight? Job pays $100. She gets her friend with the Farrah Fawcett hair to drive out with her. They drive and drive and drive. Through woods, etc. Also, there's a full lunar eclipse that night. Eventually, they arrive at the house (of the devil) and are greeted by Tom Noonan (the voice on the other end of the phone) and his cane. Nobody does quiet, nice and psychotic quite like Noonan. Noonan explains the job. It's not really a kid, it's his mother. Sam says "time to leave". Noonan eventually agrees to give her $400 if she'll stay (Sam's demand). That'll take care of the apartment and maybe score her some coke! Her friend doesn't like it, wants her to leave, and then leaves by herself with a promise to return at midnight to pick Sam up. While pulling out of the driveway she stops to light a smoke but can't find her lighter and the car lighter is taking too long. Luckily, a svelte looking Kevin Smith shows up with a zippo. SPOILER: Then he blows off her face with a revolver.

Ok, so now I'm fully on board even if the spoiled effect (referenced above) did look a little too good for the time period. Noonan introduces Sam to his wife who was in Eating Raoul (which I still haven't seen despite referencing it in two reviews; this and Chopping Mall). They seem nice enough. There's a number for a pizza place on the fridge. I know this because Noonan says it four times. Finally, Noonan and his wife head out. The old lady is apparently upstairs but Sam doesn't have to do anything. Just hang around until they get back. Let the excitement begin.

I waited and waited and waited. We got scenes of Sam walking around the house. She racks up a pool game. She sits down. She tries calling her friend. She hits a few keys on the piano. She orders a pizza. She watches the local news. She listens to her walkmen (which, I'm not sure, but this might be an anachronism.....probably not). She dances. She calls her friend again. This shit goes on forever. I closed my eyes a couple times. I can take slow movies if there's a point. Here, I couldn't figure out what that point was. If this were a war movie we could attribute it to the horrors of waiting for the actual battle to start. Here, there is no sense of dread. I mean, I know right away that Noonan and his wife and Kevin Smith are up to no good. I was also pretty sure that nothing would happen during any of these carefree moments since the director was doing nothing to prepare us for that shit. Sure, there's the third phone call to her friend who pulls the old "hello...haha you dumbass, you thought it was me" trick on her answering machine (and who the hell had answering machines back then anyway?). Ok, the answering machine thing and the walkmen thing are what amounts to insignificant nitpicks. Bottom line, for a good 30 minutes or so I was bored.

Then the pizza guy arrives and it's the same guy that blew off Sam's friend's face only Sam doesn't know that. We do, but I'm not sure I gave a shit at this point. I liked Sam and all. I mean, she's cute but I certainly didn't love her. She got herself into this shitstorm and then had the gall to press Noonan for an extra 100 bucks. So, she eats the pizza but it tastes funny. Then she passes out for some reason and when she comes to she is bound to a pentagram on the floor in the basement or something. We got Noonan, his wife, Smith, and some old witch (I'm guessing mom) doing satanic rituals on Sam. Whoa...I felt like we just showed Sam watching the news for 30 minutes and now we have pentagrams being painted on her belly and blood being funneled down her throat through a goats head and all this has taken like 30 seconds. The pacing could use some work is what I'm getting at.

So, I admired the intent more than the finished product. Also, what's with the modern sound effects (which evoked Saw for me) every time we see a quick flash of the devil, or that witch, or whomever? That shit took me out of it a bit. There's enough here to like that I'll definitely pay attention to West in the future, maybe check out Cabin Fever 2? The ending could have possibly set up a sequel but I kinda hope the guy moves on to something different. Maybe he had too much on his plate for this one? Some tighter editing for the middle parts and maybe a little looser editing for the climax and he might have had himself a moderately effective little chiller. Instead it's just a somewhat masturbatory homage which is sorely lacking tits and ass. I can understand the lack of bush (who has time to wait for an actress to grow that shit out) but no tits? No ass? What is this?? The fucking 90s!?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Orphan (2009)

If you've ever considered adoption as an option then this is probably not the picture for you. If you're a woman who had to carry a dead baby in your womb for a few weeks before expelling the fetus and also you had a problem with alcohol and maybe a husband who strayed once or twice in the past then this is definitely not the movie for you. Orphan will probably do for adopting nine year old Russian children what Jaws did for going in the water or what Alien did for breaking off return voyages to earth in order to investigate derelict space crafts. This is a surprisingly good movie.

Vera Farmiga (The Departed) stars as Kate Coleman, a woman in a so-so marriage to Peter Sarsgaard and also with two children, Max (a near-deaf mute girl) and Daniel. Kate and her husband don't seem very happy, especially with the whole carrying a dead baby to term thing, so it seems like the appropriate thing would be to take the love they were gonna give the dead baby and give it to some other child in need of love, perhaps an orphan or something. So, without further adieu, they hit up the local orphanage (run by nun CCH Pounder) and, after a brief bit of window shopping, decide on the seemingly brilliant, wise beyond her years, incredible painter, able to play Tchaikovsky and so on, 9 year old Russian girl with the odd, out dated manner of dressing, bow ties in her hair, incredible grasp of english, etc. I know what they were probably thinking. This girl may be weird but if she keeps developing at this rate she'll probably be worth millions. We're gonna be fucking rich, etc. Unfortunately, they're not aware of the spoiler that I'm not gonna spoil. Fuck, they ain't gonna get rich off this "little" brat at all. Unless by "get rich" I mean get dead, which I don't.

Also, I love the adoption process in this movie. Most places, it probably takes months (or longer). Here, you get your pick of the litter, sign a few papers, and after a few weeks of waiting get to bring the little shit home. I mean, I don't even remember a scene where CCH said anything about background checks they need to run on the Colemans (alcoholism, infidelity, etc might be issues). Also, what about a background check on this little girl? This little girl that is supposedly from Russia, where her last family was burned down with a house (an unsolved case of arson). There are questions that need some answerin is all I'm saying. Also, her name is Esther which is a pretty odd name for a nine year old girl even if she is from "Russia". And, what's with me putting quotes around various words that describe Esther. Could it be she's not whatever or whomever she claims to be (also claimed on her "official" papers)?

So, anyway, Esther comes home and needs to be integrated into the family. Max immediately falls in love with her but I think it's just because Esther learned sign language in about three days. Sarsgaard's father character adores her but I think it's because she tells him everything he wants to hear except for towards the end when she starts telling him things that no father wants to hear his daugther tell him. Daniel is immediately jealous which eventually turns into suspicious, but he's got his reasons. Things seem to go well until Esther goes to school and is made fun of for the way she talks, dresses, walks, etc. It doesn't pay to be different if you're a "little" girl is one of the morals of this story. Also, don't make fun of "little" girls because they might push you off a slide or maybe threaten you with castration, etc.

Things quickly deteriorate within the household. Sides are taken. Max and the Sarsgaard character (I think his name was John) initially side with Esther while in the other corner we got Kate and Daniel. Kate's corner isn't very strong though since she's got the whole alcoholism thing in her past which threatens to crop up especially after bottles start appearing even though she didn't drink from them. And then Daniel gets trapped in a burning tree house and ends up falling out in an effort to save himself. Now, I'm not gonna say Esther is to blame but it doesn't look good when we see her douse the thing in lighter fluid and then light the match. Also, the scene where she murders CCH Pounder who shows up with some information that might lead to Esther being taken away. Also the scene where she tells Daniel after he witnesses some of her shenanigans "If you tell anyone what you saw I'll cut off your hairless little prick before you know what it's for". Now, I gotta be honest. These aren't the type of things you'd expect to hear coming out of the mouth of a "nine year old" girl. Just seems strange is all. She's either older beyond her years or maybe she forged that birth certificate. Nah, can't be. She looks nine to me.

The picture relies a little too much on jump scares at first but then it settles in nicely as Esther plays Kate and John against each other which ends with John threatening to leave Kate unless she quits drinking. Even the shitty therapist Kate is seeing doesn't believe her when Kate says "her child" is evil personified. "Just look at her" the therapist says, "Does she look evil to you?" I don't know. I think...yes, she kinda does. I have to say that Farmiga is terrific in this role. We got her back story involving the failed pregnancy and the alcoholism which led to one child almost falling through some ice and dying (which leads me to believe there might be some foreshadowing involved here). We got her strained relationship with Sarsgaard who has that whole minimalist, always calm, style of acting down to a science. We got them having weird, inappropriate (considering the kids upstairs), sex in the kitchen. We got the relationship between her and her mother in law which seems a bit tense to say the least. But we also got a mother who will do anything to save the lives of her kids. It doesn't take long before she realizes Esther ain't one of her kids so if she needs to ---spoiler --- die, then fuck it. The bitch dies. Not that Kate flat out murders the "little" (hint: quotes are not used in reference to size) shit or anything.

Isabelle Furhman as Esther is sort of a revelation who may never find work outside of this type again. She needs to disappear for a while and come back to acting, ideally, after having her name legally changed. She's creepy as hell. Yeah, she looks evil but unlike that Omen remake kid she does more than just look the part. She embodies it. The climax involves her doing things no child actor should ever be asked to do. Is it exploitative? I think, probably, yes it is. Is it effective? Absolutely. The twist, which I have in no way hinted at above, might seem ridiculous at first. But it worked for me. I heard about it when this thing came out and then I completely forgot about it until it was revealed. If you don't see the movie and just have it spoiled for you, you probably won't want to see the movie anymore. There are a couple murders in the picture that are shockingly brutal (and realistic) when you consider that the perpetrator is only "nine" fucking years old. This is a good one, probably underrated. It's more consistently entertaining than The Other with an almost as horrific ending. I was surprised.