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Archive for the ‘Classic’ Category

Session 9 is a low budget independent American psychological horror movie that’s often times overlooked due to the lack of monsters, action, special effects, or anything necessarily supernatural. In fact, this movie doesn’t even bother to use artificial lighting. It’s about 5 regular people in a fairly normal situation. The result, is exceptional. Easily one of my all time favorites, just for what it manages to accomplish.

PLOT: 8

Gordy is hard working recent father and leader of a small asbestos cleaning crew who’s trying to make ends meet. Out of desperation, he offers his services to clean up the Danver State Insane Asylum (actual building where it was filmed) to the city in just one week, knowing it’s at least a 2 week job.
The stress from burnout, in addition to each individual’s own problems, puts the entire team on edge. Everyone begins to work in their own best interests and become a little bit insane themselves.

I’d go insane working here too.

CHARACTERS: 5.5

One of the weaker points of this movie, lacking in both powerful A-list actors and strong developement for side characters. It follows the story of Gordy, who, fortunately, is well developed and sympathizable. A decent performance on the actor’s part too. Though certainly not Oscar material, he will move you as necessary. Adequate is the best way to describe the acting for all characters actually, perhaps with the exception of Hank, who doesn’t sound nearly as much of an asshole as his character is. Phil is the second most important character, and while he has a bit more backstory and some depth, it doesn’t really show until the final stretch of the film. Until then, he’s kinda just another guy with a forgettable personality, like Mike, who you never find much about besides that he’s surprisingly knowledgable and plans on finishing law school. Jeff is even worse, being the young inexperienced mullethead nephew of Gordy, who’s only defining traits are his relative inexperience and nyctophobia.

The wrong place to work if you have nyctophobia (fear of the dark).

The best developed and well acted character is actually Mary, who never appears onscreen. You only hear her voice on therapy session tapes. As a psychology major, I can tell you that her character and portrayal of a disassociative identity disorder patient is accurate to a tee. There’s this one line during the climax that’s a bit overacted, but that’s about her only flaw.

The room where you’ll be listening to a psycho a lot. Good choice.

SCREENPLAY: 8

Fortunately, the events of the movie and the way it’s told do not suffer from the same problems as the character developement. A lot of little things happen all at once, and the movie only chooses to show us some of them. The result is a compelling mystery, realistic character interactions (with the exception of Phil’s comedic overly dramatic zoomed in “fuck you”), and no shortage of red herrings to keep you guessing. In fact, the events of this movie are told and hinted at in such misleading ways, that it’s almost impossible to understand it fully in just one viewing, yet at the same time, it’s straightforward enough that it won’t leave you too confused to enjoy the movie. This is easily one of the most intelligent and masterfully told mystery stories ever, even if certain bits are a little cliché.

The most dramatic FU ever.

As with most movies of this type, the pacing is a little slower than most movies. If, like me, you’re terminally allergic to movies that drag on needlessly, don’t worry, because this one moves slow and steady, but never stands still or goes in circles like Paranormal Activity, Noroi, Begotten, and Hurt Locker do so much. It takes its time just enough to unnerve you and build suspense, and never wastes your time with redundant dialogue or imagery.

This dark sequence only lasts a few seconds, instead of dragging on for 10 minutes while moving 2 inches each step like typical horror movies.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 8.8

Like I always say, this is the most important part of a horror movie. And it is this that makes it one of my all time favorites. Unlike typical horror movies, nothing supernatural is ever shown. There are no cheap shocks, no grotesque creatures/people, no gore, very little blood, only 1 instance of CG, and 1 onscreen killing. There aren’t even any artificial lights. The only tools of terror used is the natural lighting in a real abandoned insane asylum and a few stories told by the characters or through short camera shots focusing on unsettling imagery. It works wonders and is easily one of the most unnerving movies ever made.

Small wonder why psychological treatment was so ineffective just a few decades back when the asylums looked like this.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the building isn’t just eerie in the dark basements, but also in the brightly lit decaying seclusion rooms. I often times refer to this movie when I state why the darkness in Paranormal Activity doesn’t work, and this really drives the point home. The movie subtly suggests uneasy feelings and disturbing events through simple stories and uses that to supplement an incomplete image that let’s you fill in the blanks of how that room ended up that way, what’s happened behind the doors, or what’s lurked in the dark. It gives you just enough information so you know it’s not of fairy tale quality, and yet never paints you a complete enough picture that your mind stops wondering.

Excellent artistic camerawork makes the building eerie even in broad daylight.

Increasing the effectiveness even further is the soundtrack, or more accurately, the use of sound. The tracks are littered with inaudible whispers, sounds of structural decay, static, and gradual discordic tones. From the sound of old generators, to the slow distorted voice of Simon, to whizzing of cars driving by, the entire aural experience of this film just exudes dread, death, and evil.

I can keep posting more and more examples of this masterful camera direction all day long.

Perhaps the only flaw in the cinematography is that it never puts an exclamation mark on the atmosphere to drive the viewer from a state of unnerve to sheer terror. Rather, the climax focuses heavily on the mystery aspect of the movie instead. The entire movie peppers you with nearly constant unease and chills, but never hits you with any single unforgettable nightmare-ish sequence like the hospital scene in Jacob’s Ladder, the hospital scene in One Missed Call (J), the final scene in Carrie (1976), the climax of A Tale of Two Sisters, or the final room in [REC]. The final line of the film are words that still stay with you for most of your life, but the lack of a strong horror climax in favor of realism means you probably won’t get any intense nightmares from this.

PLOT: 8
CHARACTERS: 5.5
SCREENPLAY: 8
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 8.8

VERDICT: 8.2/10 (not an average)

Those of you looking for an intriguing mystery fed through an unnerving experience will likely never find a movie that does it better than Session 9. Although it never builds up to a point of sheer terror, few have been able to match its relentless supply of unease through the natural scenery, realistic characters, and unsettling musical score. Action junkies and fans of braindead screamfests will be heavily disappointed, as will people looking for character driven plots. However, as far as pure psychological horror goes, Session 9 is easily one of the greatest of all time. Its achievement is even greater when you consider that there’s nothing necessarily supernatural in this movie. What it is, is the perfect harmony of common real life elements working together to create real fear.

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This one is a bit more mainstream than my usual classic series reviews, but after watching the sequel, I just can’t help but compare the two. It’s hard to believe that the same people were involved in both movies. After all, they’re not even in the same genre. Whereas the sequel was a failed attempt at a slasher flick, the first movie is a tragedy told behind a thriller turned horror turned action movie. The result, as many of you already know, was brilliant.

PLOT: 8

Although fairly simple on the surface, this movie is quite open to interpretation. It starts off on a normal rafting trip with the main trio and Sarah’s family. On their way home, Sarah’s car crashes, sending her to the hospital and killing her husband and daughter right before her 5th birthday. You then get a foreboding scene of Sarah running away from the darkness in the hospital halls.

Knowing Sarah’s still suffering, the same time next year, Juno rounds up 6 girls to go on a cave diving trip to try to get their lives back to normal. There’s Holly, a tomboyish adrenaline-junkie always looking for a challenge. There’s the girly girl duo, Sam and Becca. And of course, the main trio consisting of Juno, the strong athletic leader, the emotionally distraught Sarah, and Beth, who’s always there to be a crutch for Sarah. Without telling the others, Juno takes the team to a new, undiscovered cave system, and predictably, things go wrong and a tunnel caves in behind them. This begins the thriller phase of the movie, where they’re simply trying to find another way out, crawling through claustrophobic tunnels and climbing over large chasms. As they descend deeper in the darkness, so does Sarah descend deeper into madness from the stress.

Left to right: Holly, Sam, Becca, Juno, Sarah, Beth

Eventually, the team runs into creatures known as crawlers: blind humanoids that hunt with sound. The team gets scattered from the first attack, and of course, having slipped into the slasher/horror genre now, they’re killed one by one. After a while, the girls learn how to effectively kill them back, and it slips into more of an action movie. That’s not what the movie’s really about though. The main focus is actually Sarah’s state of mind, and the cave and monsters serve as a metaphorical plot device. As Sarah interacts with the cave, the monsters, and her dying friends, a tragic subplot unfolds and her character changes. This is what makes the plot beautiful.

The writing isn’t perfect and there will be one or two stupid plot device moments, but it has its share of memorable lines, and the characters are different enough that you can always tell them apart just from the things the say and the way they say it, except for Sam and Becca, who’re pretty much best friends with each other and will be remembered as one, which is fine.

Becca (glowstick) and Sam (lamp), sticking together.

As far as horror movie plots, character developement, and dialogue goes, this movie is superb at it. Only legends such as Misery and Aliens (though that’s more action/thriller) have done better. The writers deserve a huge pat on the back for this.

ACTING: 7

Sarah and Juno easily steals the show here, but really, everyone delivers their part more than adequately. Moreso from those two, since their characters change throughout the movie, and rightfully so, the way they talk and use body language changes with it. A few parts might be slightly overacted, but overall, it’s very real.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.2

The most important aspect of a horror movie, and The Descent doesn’t disappoint for the most part. From the claustrophobia inducing camera angles to the excellent use of light (and lack thereof) and fiddling with different light sources (including a glow stick and the nightvision from a digital camera), the cave will mostly look menacing and/or artistically beautiful. There are some scenes that are too dark and you really can’t actually see anything, but not enough to be a problem. This is coupled with a great soundtrack that always adds to the feel and meaning of the scene.

One of the prettier views of the cave.

Sadly, this doesn’t hold up for the whole movie. By the time it turns into an action movie, there will be lakes of blood and entire rooms littered with bones and corpses. While it works metaphorically, at face value, it’s a bit over the top. There’s also the set design. It looks superb most of the time, but some of the smaller movable rocks look pretty fake, along with the bones.

The film also isn’t above using sudden shocks, but they’re few and far in between, and are almost exclusively used in Sarah’s dream sequences. In the lieu of the fact that they’re being used to represent her state of mind, it’s forgivable. There are only 2 which occur normally. One was a joke, and the other marks the beginning of the horror section of the movie. The latter one was actually perfectly used. It will frighten you and not just surprise you.

In the end though, the biggest surprise to most people is that this movie really isn’t that scary. It’s widely regarded as one of the best recent horror movies, but the horror part of the movie is pretty short, and the change into an action movie later undermines the weakness of the crawlers, so it won’t give you any nightmares either. What it really is is a tense thriller with a beautifully crafted tragic plot. It’ll get your heart pumping, then torque it with a wrench before it’s all over.

PLOT: 8
ACTING: 7
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.2

VERDICT: 7.7/10 (not an average)

It’s not as scary as the internet makes it out to be, but it’s still a thrilling ride with an intelligent, multi-layered plot, told through great actresses and original cinematography. There really isn’t any reason for anyone who isn’t completely aversive to horror to not watch this film at least once. It does perfectly what so many movies of this type fail to do: it puts realistic people in semi-realistic situations.

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As a final note, my review is, of course, based on the uneditted and unrated UK version. The American version butchers and throws away the Sarah mental state subplot that turns this movie from a 5.5ish to a 7.7.

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Hello and welcome to the first entry in my “Classic” series of reviews. If you have no idea what that is, check my mission statement page. But anyways, I was looking forward to the new Predators movie and couldn’t help but notice how incredibly fat Laurence Fishburne has become. This made me think back to the great old movies he’s been in before he went on a KFC 5 meals a day diet. He is, of course, best known for his role as Morpheus in the Matrix movies, which you’ve probably heard of. What probably haven’t heard of is this little gem he starred in called “Event Horizon”.

PLOT: 7

The basic premise from this movie is that Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew has been called to answer a distress signal from the Event Horizon, a deep space research vessel that disappeared without a trace 7 years prior. Joining them for the trip is Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the man who built it. He explains the special gravity drive he built for it, which allows the ship to travel at faster than light speeds by folding two locations into a singularity. This will become easier to understand when you actually watch the movie and Weir demonstrates with a piece of attractive paper.

PROTIP: Do not board or salvage ships made by a man who pokes holes in other people’s pin-up posters.

As a side note, Roger Ebert didn’t like this movie, and one of the reasons was that the crew “apparently know less about quantum theory than the readers of this review.” Well Roger, good job, because none of it has anything to do with quantum anything, and it’s all Einstein theory. He clearly stops paying attention at this point about 10 minutes in. So if you were gonna get a second opinion from him, don’t. His has no credibility in this case.

Anyways, they find the ship and the bio-scanner picks up traces of life throughout the entire ship, forcing the crew to board and search for survivors the hard way. They enter the dank, dark, and cold main corridor of the Event Horizon and soon finds out that, predictably, everyone’s been brutally killed, and all they’ve been left with is a cryptic distress message and a disturbing final ship’s log. Circumstances forces the crew to stay on and examine the ship, trying to figure out what happened to it. They’re about to find out, the hard way.

The main premise is all nice and swell, but what really earns the points here are the individual side plots for each of the important characters. Their past and inner fears play into the horrors they encounter on the ship, and in my opinion, this is the best type of horror: the one that comes from within. It’s how Silent Hill does it, and that’s easily the best horror video game series ever made.

However, they don’t spend much time delving into the past of even the main characters, and over half of them don’t get their past explored at all. I would’ve liked them to have taken this side plot angle a little bit further, especially since they don’t leave anything interesting open to speculation like how unexplained portions of Silent Hill are anyways. This stops the plot from being unforgetable, but it’s still very interesting.

ACTING: 6.5

Laurence Fishburne before he went on a KFC 5 meals a day diet.

Fishburne clearly steals the show here. That isn’t really a good sign, though he is a pretty damn good actor. A few of the crew members are pretty bland and forgetable, and Neill switches between on or off depending on the scene. All the important scenes are well done, however, so it really isn’t anything to be bothered about. Just don’t expect any oscar winning performances.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.7

This is easily the strongest point of the movie, and the most important for a horror movie. It’s actually pretty hit or miss for this one.

This cheesy opening is about as well written as The Running Man’s.

It starts off on a bad note with some bad writing to get you up to speed on what’s going on. Don’t let that stop you from watching though, because this immediately followed up by high budget special effects in-space shots of an orbital station, Miller’s ship, Neptune, and the Event Horizon. Of course, being from 1997, these effects will look pretty B-grade to us now. But then the movie changes gear and uses a completely different cinematographic style.

Once they step aboard the Event Horizon is when the horror, and the movie, really starts. The special effects still look shoddy to us, but that’s ok because it no longer heavily relies on them. The menacing set design and good use of camera angles, zoom, lighting, and panning are just superbly done to create a tense atmosphere for most of the movie.

Unlike most American horror movies (which are absolute crap), it’s not reliant on cheap sudden shocks either. The horror isn’t done with sudden loud noises, but with atmosphere and foreboding. It plays upon our natural fears of the unknown and the inexplicable, and at the same time spurs on our curiosity to find out what’s happening with the ship. It draws you closer to the edge of your seat and deeper into the terror for the next hour.

A beautiful shot of the main corridor.

Sadly, this is where it starts to fall short again. By the final 20 minutes, the plot has revealed too much and alleviates our fears, yet at the same time, doesn’t completely fulfill our curiosity. What makes the last bit even worse is that they apparently ran out of budget at some point, and the direction and dialogue takes a very noticable and sharp nosedive. You’ll know when you’ve come to the part when you start hearing cartoon sound effects. While that sequence does kill off quite a bit of the great momentum the film has built up, they did manage to muster up a satisfying, somewhat open, ending sequence.

PLOT: 7
ACTING: 6.5
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.7

VERDICT: 7.5/10 (not an average)

Although Event Horizon falls short in several areas, well over an hour of it is tense and suspenseful, and is easily one of the best sci-fi horror movies I’ve ever seen. Sure, it won’t give you nightmares like The Ring, nor does it enjoy the pedigree of the Alien franchise, but it’s an American horror movie that delivers on the horror. In a genre flooded up to our eyeballs in PG13 garbage like Final Destination, Drag Me To Hell, and Paranormal Activity, any decent American horror film is worth watching for us fear junkies who just can’t get enough of that feeling, and the Event Horizon is just so far beyond decent.

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