Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Forest (2016): Review

The Forest is a 2016 supernatural horror film. Directed by Jason Zada and starring Natalie Dormer (The Tudors) and Taylor Kinney (Zero Dark Thirty). The film is set around the real life Aokigahara forest, also known as the suicide forest.

Sara and Jess (both played by Dormer) are identical twins with a troubled past. After Jess goes missing in the suicide forest, Sara fears the worst and makes her way to Japan to find her sister. Aided by suspicious journalist Aiden (Kinney) and a local guide they begin an excursion into the forest, finding traces of Jess to suggest she has committed suicide. However, Sara refuses to believe this and insists on staying in the forest with Aiden. The more lost they become, the more the forest reveals it's own demons and Sara becomes drawn into a psychological battle to save her sister.

I had been aware of a film being made about the famous Aokigahara forest for some time, however, I was expecting the, as yet unproduced, Japanese film by legendary director Hideo Nakata (Ring, Dark Water). Therefore, what we end up with here feels like an American remake of a Japanese film that hasn't even come out yet and has more than a whiff of cultural appropriation. Obviously, the suicide forest is an excellent setting for a horror movie and the direction in this film is fantastic creating a real atmospheric dread throughout. There were also some genuinely creepy bits in the forest scenes and it reminded me of a cross between The Blair Witch Project (1999) and The Grudge (2004).

However, a film depicting such a real and tragic place is always in danger of veering into poor taste and this is made all the worse by the white American central characters. For a protagonist, I found Sara pretty unlikeable and she very much plays the American idiot abroad ie "You're eating what?". The character's lack of respect for Japanese culture and superstition soon infects the rest of the film and, although there are some Japanese characters, the film eventually comes off as a white washed interpretation of what is a very serious issue in Japan.

The Forest held my attention and even scared me a few times but, more often than not, it strayed into over the top tropes and became an irritant with a fairly poor ending to boot. American interpretations of Japanese horror are rarely successful (with the very notable exception of The Ring) but they are usually at least based on Japanese source material. Not terrible by any means but, I would imagine, Nakata can do a lot better.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of The Forest? Are you familiar with the Aokigahara forest?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Nina Forever (2016): Review

Nina Forever is a 2016 romantic horror comedy. Directed by Ben and Chris Blaine and starring Fiona O'Shaughnessy (Utopia), Abigail Hardingham and Cian Barry. This is the Blaine brothers feature length debut and had a limited release on Valentines day.

The film centres around Rob (Barry) and Holly (Hardingham), two troubled souls who work at a supermarket together. Rob is still grieving after the sudden death of his girlfriend Nina (O'Shaughnessy) and the pair soon fall for each other and begin a relationship. However, things take a pretty dark turn when a bloodied Nina makes an appearance during sex and makes it clear she is not happy for Rob to move on. Nina continues to appear, tormenting the new couple and threatening to tear them apart unless they can find a way to preserve her memory and exorcise her ghost.

Nina forever strikes a very interesting balance between black humour and genuinely touching performances from the three excellent leads. Sure, it's a rom-zom-com, but it's more like Shaun of the Dead (2004) meets Nekromantik (1987) and deals with love and death in equal measure. Weirdly, Nina provides the comic relief (albeit jet black) when things are getting too intense between Rob and Holly. However, Nina also comes out with some pretty profound musings on what it's like to experience death and I found myself hanging on O'Shaughnessys every word.

The film is beautifully shot in suitably melancholic, muted tones and felt authentically English and miserable. I also really liked the way the narrative shifted between Rob and Holly as just when I started to think that one was the protagonist, it shifted to the other and the plot was refreshingly unpredictable. Ironically, the only thing I really took issue with was that the ending felt pretty unresolved, but I can't help but think that this was the entire point of the film and that, just maybe, this was intentional?

For all the over-saturation of the zombie genre, rom-zom-coms still don't come along that often. Films that can successfully balance sincere romance, authentic tragedy and morbid humour, come along even less often (Harold's Going Stiff is another fine example of this). Nina Forever isn't always an easy watch but it's one of the most fiercely original and thought provoking films of the year thus far.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Nina Forever? What's your favourite rom-zom-com?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Goosebumps (2016): Review

Goosebumps is a 2016 family horror film. Directed by Rob Letterman (Monsters VS Aliens) and starring Jack Black (School of Rock, King Kong), Dylan Minnette (Let Me In, Prisoners) and Odeya Rush (We Are What We Are). The film is based on the popular children's books by R.L Stine and 90s TV series.

The film starts off with a familiar Goosebumps setup. Zach (Minnette) is the new kid in the neighborhood and has moved in next to Hannah (Rush). The only problem is Hannah's overprotective and weird dad (Black), who seems intent on keeping her locked up in the house. This is where it starts to get meta. After Zach and his buddy Champ sneak into the house, they discover that, not only does Hannah's dad own a collection of Goosebumps books, but that he is R.L Stine himself! Unfortunately they learn this after accidentally opening one of the books and unleashing a menagerie of monsters on the unsuspecting town. The only way to get them back in? For Stine to write a new story that ends up becoming the plot of the film itself.

Goosebumps captures the feel of the original series (including a Danny Elfman score) and puts it through the Cabin in the Woods (2012) filter to freshen it up a little, with some Jumanji (1995) mechanics thrown in for good measure. Jack Black is surprisingly good as the semi-fictional version of Stine and even better as the iconic Slappy the dummy, who is perfect as the leader of the monsters. There is a good selection of monsters on show including the abominable snowman, the wolfman, a giant preying mantis and an assortment of gnomes. However, I still felt that there could have been more and sometimes they focused on the slightly more generic beasties.

The only part that let the film down a bit was the over reliance on cgi effects for the monsters, which were not of the highest standard (although they were dealing with a lot of different characters). Slappy was the only character rendered with practical effects (perhaps appropriate if he’s the leader) and a lot of the other monsters felt like they weren’t quite as alive as they should have been (particularly the gnomes who had lost a lot of their sinister qualities since the TV show). I also felt the romantic sub plot was somewhat unnecessary and bolted on and Hannah's character twist was pretty cheesy.

My expectations were fairly low for what is essentially a glossy, big budget reboot of a cult TV show that played such an important part in many horror fan’s childhoods. But, all things considered, this is probably as authentic a Goosebumps experience as could be expected in 2016, and on such a large scale. There might be an over reliance on CGI effects but that goes for the movie industry as a whole. Campy B-movie fun that the whole family can enjoy but unlikely to make the same impact as the original series.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Goosebumps? How does i compare to the books and TV show?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Martyrs (2016): Review

Martyrs is a 2016 American horror film. Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz (Wrecked) and starring Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble. The film is a remake of the seminal 2008 French film of the same name.

The film opens with a young Lucie (Bellisario) escaping captivity and being re homed in a convent where she meets future best friend Anna (Noble). Fast forward 10 years and a deranged Lucie storms a suburban home and exacts bloody revenge on her captors. Starting to lose touch with reality, Lucie reaches out to Anna who quickly gets dragged into a mass murder case, but also a worldwide religious conspiracy intent on creating martyrs who can potentially see through to the other side. This leads to a bloody finale which sees the girls achieve transcendence and discover the secrets of the universe before they die. 

Martyrs (2008) is not only one of the greatest French horror films out there but takes it's rightful place as one of the greatest horror films outright. Though the new wave of French extremity produced other gems (Haute Tension (2003) and Inside (2007), Martyrs perfectly encapsulated the savage but profound nature of the movement. And what do Americans do when they get their hands on complex, thought provoking foreign films? They dumb it down of course! Don't get me wrong, Martyrs is a fantastic looking film with a really strong score to boot, but the decision to remove almost all of the violence from the plot really defeats the object and significantly changes the tone of the film.

Random changes to other elements of the plot seem to have been made simply to differentiate from the original and the spectacular flaying sequence from the original is replaced with a simple crucifixion (which didn't even involve piercing of the hands and feet). If the entire premise of the film is that Martyrs are created through a process of intense suffering then we need to see that suffering (as in the original) otherwise the transcendence (or in this case double transcendence) is not believable and makes no sense.

There is probably a good reason that no other French new wave films have been remade. A. Not many directors would have the balls to do it and B. most directors understand that these films have a uniquely French blend of extreme violence and sophisticated, cerebral ideas that would simply not translate into an American setting. This isn't a terrible remake, but rather, falls into the vast and expansive category of pointless remakes that offer nothing new nor enhance enjoyment of the original film.

** 2 Stars

What did you think of the remake? Is the extreme violence vital to the plot?