Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Kit Power
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I saw five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the month of September. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Severe spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
Back to London for this one, for one last visit to the BFI - Screen 3 this time. Which is a lovely cinema, but lacks the mind-buggering scale of the IMax.
My stepson was also in tow (last seen watching IT with me at our local multiplex <http://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/king-on-screen-4-it >) and we got ourselves situated in good time for lights down. I hadn’t seen the movie before. My mind had slotted it in as a late 80’s film (possibly confusing it with The Fog), but one I’d heard very good things about. It swiftly became obvious to me that I’d gotten that hilariously wrong, and also that I was watching something not merely pretty good but actually kind of magnificent.
I can’t speak to the colour version - I have since caught a brief section of it on TV, before swiftly turning over - but the black and white print we saw oozes atmosphere and menace. It is gorgeously shot, and of course the lack of colour gives the titular mist a luminosity that is deeply atmospheric and sinister, even before its nature is revealed. Later, when the monsters start to show up, it’s even more effective, rendering what I suspect might in color be some slightly shaky CGI into an unnerving, visceral experience. Interestingly, for me the black and white didn’t negatively impact at all on any of the gorier moments, either, with the black blood inviting just as much of a reaction as the red would have done.
And it’s worth reiterating King’s central storytelling philosophy here; in On Writing, he makes no secret of his disdain for advanced plotting, instead insisting that plot is, in essence, what happens when characters meet circumstance. The story of The Mist is an exemplar of this kind of King storytelling, with a vivid cast of characters trapped in a mundane environment made horrific by it’s surroundings. Apply heat until characters come to a boil, then watch them melt.
Given that, casting is hugely important, especially with the ensemble nature of the piece. Luckily, the cast was, I thought, uniformly brilliant. Thomas Jane has a blue collar everyman vibe to him - a kind of gritty, rougher Tom Hanks quality - which feels like it should be at odds with his profession as a fantasy and horror artist (one who appears to be working on a Stephen King book cover, to judge by the painting on display at the start of the film), but Jane sells it well, playing off the character as taciturn, withdrawn. It works, and sells both his relationship with his kid and with his neighbour (Andre Braugher, kicking every bit as much arse here as he did in Homicide: Life on the Streets).
But honestly, I’m struggling to think of a weak link. It was kind of odd seeing so many future Walking Dead alumni facing a different horror apocalypse, but you can see why the casting director of that show thought of them, based on this. The group dynamics are brilliantly played, with many of the best scenes created not through big action set pieces (though we have those, and they are glorious) but through groups of people simply talking, discussing, arguing, trying to puzzle out what is going on and what to do next.
At heart, it’s a very claustrophobic piece, and the basic theres are expressed pretty clearly by a small group of the characters themselves, as they debate what they can tell the larger group about the tentacle that just killed a kid as he tried to fix the generator: civilised behaviour is dependant entirely upon the trappings of civilisation, and that absent those structures and controls, things - people - quickly spiral out of control and into destructive, evil behaviour.
It’s not a terribly comforting view of humanity (and,as I get older, one I find less and less convincing as a Deep Truth) but bloody hell it makes for good horror stories, and certainly plays expertly on our own darkest fears about ourselves.
So the movie handles this well, with uniformly superb performances and intelligent, unflashy filmmaking. And while the initial tentacle attack via the loading bay felt just a touch overplayed, the two later action set pieces, especially the ill-fated drug store raid, are magnificent. That sequence really is everything you want from action horror - atmospheric, creeping dread, the fake out jump scare, incredible lighting and intelligent shot choices, and then the reveal that our heros are in very, very deep shit. The spider monsters are vile, and the moment they burrowed out of the captured soldier’s stomach was genuinely skin-crawling.
But for all of the adrenaline rush of that sequence, the later bug attack on the store, and the final mad dash to the car, the greater horror of the film comes from the deterioration of the survivors, as the bleakness of the situation presses down on them. The monsters outside the store are horrific, but it’s the ones inside the store that are ultimately more disturbing. The capacity for ordinary people to become part of horrific movements, and buy into demagoguery and/or religious extremism, is an anxiety King returns to again and again throughout his work, but it’s never writ larger or with bloodier clarity than in The Mist, and Darabont seems to have fully grasped this as being the true guts of the story. The script and direction reflect that, and allow the horror of fear driving desperation and barbarism to play out with truly uncomfortable clarity.
The ending of the movie takes that bleakness to it’s logical conclusion, and is stunning in its brutality. Jane knocks it out of the park in the final scene, becoming utterly undone by what he has to do… especially as the final gut punch lands and he realises he had to do no such thing. In the end, even the good people weren't immune to the warping effect of terror and desperation, and even the very best of intentions led to damnation.
It’s a genuinely shocking conclusion that elevates an already superbly made movie to something approaching genius. And as the credits rolled, the sounds of people exhaling rolled over the cinema, a collective expression of shock and relief. Quite a moment.
The Mist is one of King's finest novellas - maybe the finest - and with this film, Frank Darabont has delivered a movie the equal of the source material.
In fact, with that ending, he may even have surpassed it. I don’t have much higher praise than that.
This was a fantastic end to my mini King film festival.
Or so I thought.
Turns out, Netflix had a surprise in store for me, in October…
The Unseen stars Jasmine Hyde as Gemma, an audiobook narrator whose young son tragically drowns in an indoor pool accident shortly after the film begins. The resulting sense of guilt and loss that Gemma feels manifests in a series of never-ending panic attacks; these panic attacks are made even more upsetting by their ability to cause Gemma's vision to become blurred to the point of complete disorientation. As Gemma and her husband spiral into a bottomless pit of despair and an inability to deal with their senses of guilt and Gemma's increasing frequency of the debilitating panic attacks, they decide to try and get away from it all by taking a weekend trip to a country house owned by Paul.
Gemma met Paul thanks to a random encounter during one of her panic attacks, when Paul helped her to get through it, but is Paul the good samaritan that he first appears or is there a more profound and darker reason for his good deeds? However, during their weekend getaway, Gemma's panic attacks continue to get worse, and their relationship finally starts to unravel, to a point where Paul may just get exactly what he wanted all along.
The Unseen is a refreshing if that is the right word, entry in what is now becoming an overcrowded market of low budget thrillers/horror films. The film is shot on a shoestring budget, however where many of other films of this type waste their money on silly special effects or stupid jump scares, The Unseen uses its tight budget and filming time to construct a film based around some compelling performances and a powerful and emotionally charged script.
The Unseen straddles many genres, at times it is unsure whether it wants to be a thriller, a supernatural mystery or a domestic drama, this uncertainty on the whole works very well. The hints of some sort of spectral presence that are scattered throughout the film help to keep the viewer guessing as to what is really going on, this sense of confusion is aided by the brilliant cinematic portrayal of Gemma's panic attacks. When Gemma suffers from one the viewer is given an insight into the utter sense of confusion and despair she feels by allowing the viewer to witness what she sees and feels thanks to a massively disorientating blurred screen effect and a perfectly pitched soundtrack. The film may slightly overuse this impact and its function to "signal" specific plot events, but even so, this is a clever and brave cinematic effect that fully delivers on its intended function.
The film's unwillingness to fully commit to one genre, to some, might feel somewhat wishy-washy, but this reviewer loved this approach, it allowed the film to flex its dramatic muscles and gives the actors a lot of room to deliver some terrific performances, and when the film finally settles on an actual direction in the final acts it adds to the power of the film.
As mentioned previously The Unseen is carried by some truly magnificent performances. Jasmine Hyde's performance as Gemma is heartbreaking, raw and fascinating; you are drawn into her world with an utter sense of futility and panic, her pain becomes your pain.
Richard Flood's portrayal of her husband is one of the most emotionally charged depictions of a grieving father you are likely to see. His sense of loss and helplessness from the loss of his child and his inability to help his grieving wife is devastating; this is a performance that will punch you hard in your soul.
Even Simon Cotton's performance as Paul is finely tuned and effective one. A charismatic and chilling presence, Cotton oozes a like a malignant stain across the lives of Gemma and Will.
The Unseen is a brooding, slow burner of a film, a disturbing and emotionally devastating look at the loss and grief suffered by the death of a loved one. A compelling narrative boosted by stunning performances and elegant cinematography, it is a welcome change to the standard fare offered to horror fans these days.
By John Boden
In a Williamsburg hotel lobby, years ago, I stood and talked to Mike Lombardo, for hours. We talked writing and stories and horror films and cartoons and television. At one point he told me about a short story he'd gotten published called "I'm Dreaming of A White Doomsday" and after he recounted the thing to me, I was stunned by the idea's brilliance. He then went on the tell me he and his Reel Splatter Productions team was planning on making a movie from it. The next few years were marked with progress reports from him, and I was even lucky enough to see it in pieces when initial shooting was completed but all the behind-the-scenes sorcery had not been implemented. Even in its barest bones stage, it was staggering.
It's now December 2017, and I can reveal that I've been fortunate enough to have seen his a few times now and it is every bit as amazing as I'd hoped it would be. It's tough for me not to be biased, not be looking through the tear-stained goggles of how fucking proud of this kid I am. But here goes.
I'm Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is a different kind of film, touted as both a horror film and a post-apocalyptic nightmare--and it is both of those things but fleetingly--what it really is, at its core, is fear boiled down. The terror of that fraying tether you hold as the world finally snapping. The lovely balloon you look to for a smile and some uplifting feelings floating up, up and away.
A woman and her son are left alone in a sort of makeshift bomb shelter in their basement. Her husband has gone foraging for supplies some time ago and not returned. Her days are spent wallowing in worry and grief while she tried to keep up a cheerful facade for young Riley. As times marches on--and I mean heavy booted stomping kind of marching here--things look grim, and it gets very dark.
I could easily explain more but the less you know, the more impact this will have. The film is quite superb. From the beautiful camera work and outstanding set design to the top-notch acting, most notably Hope Bikle and young Reeve Blazi in the starring roles. The story is scalpel-sharp and the details immaculate. The real star of this film, however, is the tone. The sense of melancholy fear that prickles your neck and makes your heart ache is in damn near every minute of this thing. It is a truly wondrous achievement and in a perfect world, destined to become a holiday classic.
With help from Executive Producer Brian Keene (you've heard of him, no doubt) I'm Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is playing festivals. And you'd do wise to try and catch it. And by that I mean, you have to keep them eyes peeled for a showing near you. Hopefully sometime soon it'll play a wider release or be available to buy or something. Keep checking www.reelsplatter.com for any and all updates.
BY JOE X YOUNG
The song ‘Shoot the sherbet to me Herbert’ has the classic line ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream’ but in the case of this DVD there isn’t a whole lot to scream about. The core concept here is sound enough with a psychotic ice cream man driving around the neighbourhood and killing random people, which isn’t a new idea (Clint Howard did it better in ‘The Ice Cream Man’ back in 1995) but with the right treatment it could be a good one.
Having read the cover blurb and quotes on the DVD (image above) I was quite looking forward to this but was left wondering if I’d actually seen the same film as the other reviewers. The killer on the front of the DVD isn’t in the film and bears no resemblance to the actual one who is on the back of the DVD cover, which is understandable given how vanilla the real one looks. You can’t judge a movie by its cover, but it should at least have the right people on it. Anyway, that’s a minor issue but it is indicative of what we get with the film as it promises far more than it delivers.
The film is set in a standard suburban location which is normal, but the killings, as few as they are, are of occupants of the same street and not all happening the same night, which is just plain dumb. There’s hardly a mention of the people who have been killed off, no mention of where the bodies are taken to and zero Police presence, all of which stretch credibility. There are some good points of which all of the general technical aspects are crisp and clean and the acting from all concerned is believable to a higher than average degree for low budget horror even if the dialogue is borderline tedious, so it is somewhat sad to see such a polished production fall flat because of essentially one problem… The script sucks.
Deanna Russo stars as Mary, a thirtysomething housewife/freelance writer who has returned to her old neighbourhood to set up home and await the arrival of her husband and children a few days later. Deanna is pleasant enough and wholly believable in the role.
Mary has a dalliance with a neighbouring student called Max played by John Redlinger who, armed with a six pack (and we are not just talking beer), a bag of weed and rampant testosterone decides upon getting some milf action, which unfortunately becomes a major focal point of the film. All very stereotypical, as are the entire cast so there’s really nothing new to see here. Emil Johnsen as the ice cream man is about as scary as bellybutton fluff, which I think is more a case of him doing his best with the material he was given than anything else. On second viewing I’m of the opinion that the film was aiming for a slightly comical approach, but that fell flat if indeed it was the intent.
Okay, so the seasoned horror fan will have encountered several dozen dumb ass plots and some often ridiculous devices which the viewer is to treat as mental bubble-gum, and we do so because it’s all just entertainment. This is where The Ice Cream Truck has a fundamental flaw, it’s just not entertaining. Much of why I found it that way is because of the general setup regarding the Truck and the driver. I don’t know much about the vehicle except to say that it looks like it hails from the 50s or 60s and is in beautiful condition, it’s a panel Truck with a step in rear containing chest freezers with an old-fashioned limited selection of scoop ice cream, so all very traditional and charming. The ice cream man himself is also charming, wearing a traditional white outfit and speaking as if he just stepped out of Pleasantville, which although it sets apart from the more gruesome portrayals of ice cream men it also ramps up his visibility, which surely isn’t a good idea for a serial killer.
In the recent Stephen King series Mr Mercedes the psychopath is a part-time ice cream man, he has a contemporary Truck and clothing and is all rather non-descript. He spies on the detective random times during daylight whilst selling ice creams but never commits a crime whilst doing so. That’s a proper portrayal, he doesn’t make himself obvious and even though his presence attracts attention it is assumed he’s just there to sell ices and nothing more, so he is effectively hiding in plain sight. In The Ice Cream Truck the killer is basically as thick as pigshit. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, yet we are expected to believe that a man in a classic vehicle which plays a tune deliberately intended to draw attention will not be noticed when he’s killing someone, getting his crisp white outfit plastered in blood and then casually, slowly driving away with the tune still playing. All that’s missing is a huge neon sign on top of the Truck saying ‘serial killer’ with an arrow pointing at the driver.
On the subject of the tune that the Truck is playing it is called ’Turkey in the Straw’, but is probably better known as either a playground song ‘do your ears hang low’ or a more recent take on it ‘Chain Hang Low’ by ‘Jibbs’ which features an Ice Cream Truck in the video, leading me to wonder if this somehow inspired the film… perhaps not.
I realise it’s just entertainment or is supposed to be, and I also know I’m a harsh audience, so if this sort of thing doesn’t matter to you then please feel free to ignore what I say here and give the film a shot. It only matters to me because it shifts my focus from the enjoyment of the medium, so instead of sitting back and relaxing I find myself leaning forward, often gesticulating and saying out loud ‘dafuq’ or some other such expletive and thinking more about how the hell the ice cream man is going to get the blood out of a white cotton outfit as even on a cold wash it’s bound to stain. There’s not much in the way of murders happening in this film and it has a twist ending which didn’t do a lot for me either, all of which is a bloody shame because the cinematography and sound are all perfectly good and even the acting in general is fine.
I know there are many people who have put their hearts and souls into making The Ice Cream Truck and they are quite probably highly proud of the achievement, especially when they are given such sterling reviews from other sources and I wish them well, honest I do, because at least they are getting off their arses and doing something. I always feel mean when giving a bad review, but better that than ignoring it.
If you decide you want to check it out for yourself then stop them and buy one.
by Matthew Price
Apocalypse Road starts in the post-post apocalypse, with an old woman recounting the fall of civilization. Then we flash back to two sisters (played by Katie Kohler and Ashlyn McEvers) on the titular road. Much of the suspense derives from guessing which one survives to become the old woman and who doesn't make it.
The sisterly bond between Kohler and McEvers is realistic and at time touching, so it's disappointed when they get separated at the end of the first act. The film delivers their stories in parallel, with one becoming enmeshed in a conspiracy of unclear motivations, while the other follows the more standard man-is-the-real-monster plot we've come to expect from this genre.
As with most independent films, the quality of the acting is very uneven (outside of the lead roles). Lance De Los Santos is a powerful presence in a nearly silent role, while Tiffany Heath chews the scenery like she's been starving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Todd Jenkins is a poor man's Mark Boone, Jr. Luckily, this is a road movie, and none of the supporting cast stick around for long (except for De Los Santos, thankfully). The main draw here is the journey.
At times, that journey can be visually stunning. Director Brett Bentman and cinematographer/editor Michael Ray Lewis favor the long-take style that seems to be in vogue these days, utilizing it to great effect for both slow, contemplative scenes, and thrilling chases.
But the low budget shows its seams, as well. The extended takes are often used in talky exposition scenes as a way to shoot faster without coverage. It's not the worst sin an indie film can commit, but the technique stands out even more when juxtaposed against other, better scenes.
I was also not shocked to find no production designer, or even set decorator, among the film's credits. The costume design, by Tiffany McEvers (mother of star Ashlyn), is on point, illuminating character and fitting well with the world, but the sets are almost entirely uninspired. They mostly look like locations that would be abandoned now, in the present. It looks less like the apocalypse and more like a tour of America's neglected industrial complex.
As the movie progresses, the visuals become more hallucinatory and abstract. They're used to great effect, making it difficult to determine what's real and what isn't. At a certain point, I wondered if we were heading towards a bullshit she-was-dead-the-entire-time ending but thankfully (spoiler alert) that didn't happen.
The actual ending is moving and bittersweet in an inevitable way. (Again, it's pretty obvious someone isn't going to make it.) The emotions feel earned, even if there are bumps along the road to get there.
Ultimately, the filmmakers' reach exceeds their grasp with Apocalypse Road. I'd love to see them tackle a movie whose ambitions are more in line with their production budget. As for this film, if you're willing to look past some less-than-stellar production values and the occasional hammy performance, I recommend giving it a shot.
WARNING: NO BULLSHIT BEYOND THIS POINT.
Well actually that’s what it says on a sign on the wall in the Police Station, but it’s indicative of the film’s content as it’s very funny and 99% bullshit.
Live Evil gets off to a very different start with Officer Hancock (Charlene Amoia) out on Halloween having to deal with an injured stag in the road after which she gets a call to a mansion where something seriously evil has gone down. Lots of partygoers are dead and there’s a demon in one of the bedrooms, Hancock arrests her/it and takes her/it to the small town lock-up where Sheriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich) is having a bad night as Halloween is always a pain in the arse. So far I’m 15 minutes in and this film is really something different, it’s mostly in such subdued colour that it’s almost black and white with some classy link segments in rich colour which are all very glossy. Aesthetically the film works beautifully but it’s not all looks and no substance.
30 minutes in and the film is pretty damned cool, billed as a cross between Ghostbusters, Dawn of the Dead and the Twilight Zone I’m finding it hard to agree. To me it’s more like Assault on Precinct 13 meets Ash Vs Evil Dead with some very hard to kill Demons calling the shots. There’s a small assortment of criminals in the cells, the town drunkard, Rosie an unruly teenage girl (Raven Whisnant) and a pair of highly intelligent ‘F.B.I. Most Wanted’ mercenaries Mr. Eleven (Ed Ricker) and Mr. Twelve (Carter) who are cooling their heels when the demon joins them. Incidentally, everyone who sees the Demon sees someone different and all are affected in murderous ways.
The casting is spot-on, the acting just fine and almost an hour in the film is all very straightforward in as much as you’re never quite sure what’s coming next but neither should you care as It’s all good fun. The dead don’t stay that way, whether they are the recently deceased or somewhat older they tend to come back to cause more problems for the hapless constabulary, several of whom now sport a fantastic line of glow in the dark eyeballs. The acting is fine, nothing wrong with the filming or sound and although it’s really obvious that the demons are just people wearing masks it’s actually part of what makes this film a wholly enjoyable cheesefest.
Tony Todd is cast against his usual bad-ass type as he puts in an appearance as a disgruntled Pastor having to deal with his long-dead predecessors who enlist him to perform an exorcism. It’s not a major role, and I wouldn’t even call it particularly pivotal, but hey, it’s Tony Todd so it’s all ok.
Live Evil is a crazy film but an overall enjoyable one.
Available now on VOD.
ANTIHUMAN = ANTICLIMAX
This is an odd one and not a good one.
It is promoted as having similarities to Orphan Black and Resident Evil. All I can think of is that whoever works in the publicity department and came up with that either has never seen either Orphan Black or Resident Evil, as Antihuman has about as much in common with either of those as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has with The Sound of Music.
First of all a major gripe (for me at least)
There are certain things I’m not a fan of in movies and tv series, one of the biggies is a score which tramples all over the dialogue, and Antihuman regularly has that. It’s damned annoying and doesn’t add anything to the ‘action’, not as if there’s a lot of action in this film as it’s one of those long-winded ‘films with a message’ which is slower than molasses running down a glacier. One thing there’s a lot of is dialogue, and that comes across as somewhat stilted especially when two people regularly refer to one another by name when they are the only ones talking with the sort of delivery expected of amateur theatre. It’s all rather ‘arty’ and much of what is being said is either self-indulgent pointless bollocks or very simple facts being delivered as if they are somehow answering the mysteries of the universe.
I think there’s an attempt to be ‘unique’ and to instil a meaningful depth in this film which is marginalised by the basic content.
The main character is Maggie, who returns to a now abandoned psychological research facility her deceased mother worked at and died in. The first 25 minutes or so are spent skirting the issue that Maggie is dying and that there’s more to it than meets the eye, but it’s all a bit tedious, especially given that every time there’s a ‘serious moment’ there’s the awfully intrusive music.
One of her friends, Peggy, has for some reason swapped names with Maggie as they apparently have the same name. That could be considered bizarre except that for some reason people christened ‘Margaret’ (Maggie) are often known as ‘Peggy’, I only know this because I had an ‘Aunt Peggy’, so yes, there’s some sort of logic there but why they bother with that is beyond me as it would be lost on most people.
After a lot of ‘talky bits’ we’re treated to some nice visuals of the Earth/stars and a dream sequence involving a sunset , a supposedly scary guy, a sky full of birds and radio static/warning sirens before things go apocalyptic.
It’s promoted as being in the same mould as Orphan Black and Resident Evil, but I’d be very concerned about violations of the trades descriptions act as to me it just comes across as a very beautifully filmed load of bollocks.
There’s a lot of camping in the woods going on, and as someone who has spent a lot of time in tents it was lovely to have that actual atmosphere with the sound recordist capturing the reminiscence of early morning nature waking up in the background even though that’s overdone and excessively loud. At the 40 minutes stage we’re still not at the psychological research facility, so no closer to the actual truth of the story. Five minutes on from that, after a soul-searching bi-lingual (Russian parts with English subtitles) conversation with the remains of a dead bird, we finally arrive at the research facility which is a sprawling red brick affair with scarcely any of the decay we usually see in horror films. So far I’m finding this to be slow going and although there appears to be a serious attempt at creating something special it’s coming across as more specious. Half way through the film and the worst thing that’s happened so far is that the main character Maggie had a nosebleed; it wasn’t even a gusher, just a drip. The bone dry dialogue is getting to me now; I’m somehow missing the point of this film, if indeed it actually has one. The supporting cast members do little of any value, and it’s all rather tedious. The dream sequence was pointless, even if visually arresting, and it was about as frightening as leftover porridge.
After a few minutes of more random conversation Maggie buggers off into the woods where she meets a guy who used to work in the building. There’s a totally pointless exchange between them which to me is just more piling on of the film’s sense of self-importance. There’s nothing of Orphan Black or Resident Evil in this, and to claim a comparison for promotional purpose I would call misleading to say the least. Maybe other people can see it, but I can’t.
There’s around half an hour left of this and my mind is sorting through loads of scenarios of outcomes which could vastly improve the story but the fear here is that it’s going to be as vapid throughout as it has been so far. As the main character Maggie is dying I suspect that there’ll be a ‘Sixth Sense’ attempt at a revelation in which all of them are just facets of a dying woman’s character, which would be piss-poor but I’m half expecting that. I would say that even ‘The Butler Did It’ would be a great revelation at the moment, but as so far there has been nothing happening that could be blamed on a Butler even that’s a stretch.
It has a lot of the elegance of an Aronofsky picture but none of the grit and at the moment the pointless back and forth of stating the obvious in monotone is getting beyond tolerance, especially as the score isn’t necessary here adding nothing to proceedings.
It’s trying to be something special and failing. The sound mixing is OTT for most of the film, the dialogue is largely what I would expect from arty drama students and the lame attempt to have some sort of breath-taking message about humanity is laughable. Whatever notions of some sort of fitting ending I had in mind were thwarted by yet another arty tendency of not actually providing anything satisfactory to the point where we have no idea what happens to anyone except for a hinted-at apocalypse. It’s quite easily one of the most boring films I’ve seen in recent years but I dare say that strokey-beard poseurs and philosophy students will love it.
Anya Korzun, Danielle Arden, Andrew Jardine, Katie Keight, and Kathryn Goldsmith star in a film by Luke Gietzen and Mark Robins which I am struggling to say anything really positive about, which is why I haven’t except that it’s visually pretty.
Antihuman is now available on VOD from Wild Eye Releasing.
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I saw five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the month of September. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
I tried. I really did. I wanted to write an appraisal of this movie that took it on it’s own terms, without reference to the book. I wanted, as far as I could, to assess this as a piece of storytelling in it’s own right, and see what I had to say about the movie, rather than dissect the adaptation angle.
But let’s face it, that was never going to happen.
There is simply zero chance I can get through an article about IT the movie without referencing IT the book. It’s simply unpossible. IT is a seminal, foundational text, for me - one I have reread many, many times (in point of fact, one I am in the processing of re-reading right now), and that is branded across my soul. There’s simply no way to avoid that doubling effect, seeing a version of the story I love so much on the big screen.
So I took along my stepson, as at least some kind of bulwark/control group against that effect, to see what we would see.
And I liked it just fine.
The opening was especially powerful (and yeah, okay, faithful to the book). The moment when little Georgie got his arm bitten off, before being dragged down the storm drain… yeah, man, that set out the stall. I think it’s easy to forget, as someone from whom the novel IT is now such a comfy pair of slippers, what a truly transgressive move brutally murdering a child in the opening is, and seeing it happen on screen, in a room full of strangers, brought the shock of that moment home to me in a fresh way.
So that was good. And 80’s Derry was beautifully realised, building off the iconography of Stranger Things the audience will have been primed by - the New Kids on the Block gag was especially deftly handled in that regard. It’s also undeniably disconcerting to realise that the 80’s is as far from us now as the 50’s was from the 80’s the novel was written and published in. One of the huge attractions of the book for me was and is the evocation of 50’s childhood, the birth of rock and roll, Coke in green bottles, all of that. To realise that, for my stepson, the 80’s childhood is as exotic, and old fashioned, as semi-fictional and mythologised as the 50’s is to me… there’s a lot to unpack there, emotionally, and far from all of it’s bad, but it is kind of painful. Bloody hell, life is short.
I’m sorry, where were we? Ah, yes, the kids. Any version of IT lives or dies with the kids, for me. Especially given the probably correct decision to tell the movie in a linear fashion, with a now-guaranteed Chapter 2 taking in the adults. And I think they nailed it, in terms of the casting. None of them looked the way I pictured them, exactly, but they all looked right - and, for the most part, behaved right. Richie was the highlight for me - because, I realise on this latest re-read, Richie is the kid I most strongly identify with. For my money, Finn Wolfhard got it completely. He had that insufferable, unstoppable quality - irritating, but with juuuuust enough infectious charm to make you smile, even as you (sometimes) groaned. But I felt the kids were all good to great, in terms of their performances.
I did have some issues with some of the writing though. Mike, in particular, just didn’t have enough to do, and I wasn’t wild about the aspects of his character that got handed over to Ben (I’ll come back to this). As for Bill… the kid was fine, but each time I go through this story, I’m less convinced by Bill as a character, and the movie didn’t seem to find a way to fix this. As my stepson put it (totally unprompted by me, I hasten to add) ‘He’s just a bit.. Nothing, isn’t he, in terms of the story? I mean, apart from his brother being killed, what’s he for?’
In fact, let’s do this now: My other main issue with the film is simply that it leans too much on some very creaky horror movie tropes. Jump scares, for example. I’m not one of those purists that insist that a jump scare is automatically cheap or bad - I think a genuinely well-executed jump scare is art, albeit probably not high art - but boy, there are a lot of them here, and I felt like they showed a lack of confidence in the subject matter, to be honest. IT contains what is, IMO, one of the scariest core concepts of any horror story I’ve ever read - a whole town that is haunted, by a shapeshifting creature the feeds on the meat of terrified children, and can resemble your worst nightmares. You should not need a parade of jump scares to make that shit scary - that shit is scary, inherently.
Again, some of them are very well executed - Georgie’s murder is beautifully done (and totally justified), and the slide projector coming to life sequence (a genuinely smart and savvy updating of Georgie’s picture book, I felt) was another example of a well-earned popcorn spiller, but elsewhere, it felt like too much of a crutch - or maybe just too much of an expected convention to avoid.
That said, many of the sequences where IT/Pennywise stalked the kids were superbly executed. Whilst I wasn’t wild about Ben’s library encounter - it felt both perfunctory and overplayed, somehow - Eddie’s lepper was brilliantly realised, and the moment when Beverly’s sink belched blood was another good example of a well-earned jump scare - as well as a rare example of where I felt the on-screen horror actually eclipsed that of the book, in terms of imagination and impact.
Similarly, I was mostly fine with the changes made at the end, in terms of the final confrontation, and the notion of the kids being preserved (presumably as snacks for ITs long hibernation). Having the gang come together to physically confront and fight IT felt truer to the spirit of the novel than the TV movie’s god-awful giant spider and actors just starting as a glowing light. I bloody love the whole concept of the deadlights, but it’s a very good example of the kind of concept that a novel can do brilliantly and a movie will always struggle with. This way is probably better all round.
That said, there were two big changes that actively annoyed me. The first was, as I mentioned above, the gutting of Mike as a character - firstly by giving the librarian role of the group over to Ben, who as the pointy end of the love triangle had quite enough going on, and more importantly by changing the nature of his relationship with his father - again such a pivotal part of the novel - into something perfunctory and, well, honestly a little mean, which I felt did a disservice to the storytelling. I appreciate the struggle to truncate such a sprawling novel (or even half of it) into a palatable movie length chunk, but for me, all the kids are important, and taking an axe to the bio of the only black kid in the story… yeah, I’m not wild about that.
Similarly, I was borderline infuriated by the fridging of Bev in the final act. Again, throughout the movie, Bev is a brilliant, well realised character. To casually turn her into a quest object for the final act - to make her capture the motivator to put the band back together and get down the sewer for the big final bust up - really, Hollywood? This is the best you can do? I’m not even angry, really - just disappointed. I’m not sure what it says about us that a film made in 2017 is actually worse on gender and race representation than the 80’s horror novel it was based on, but it strikes me as a pretty epic failure of imagination.
Like I say, disappointing.
All that said, it didn’t ruin the movie for me, or anything. I enjoyed it - at moments even loved it. Richie really was my Richie, from writing to look to performance, and Pennywise was also superbly creepy - especially in moments where he emerged from small spaces, or opened his jaws way beyond human capacity - or, perhaps best of all, as a giant version of him reached out from the projected image on the wall, grabbing at our gang. The bullies were also well played (if for my taste just a little underexplored - it’s never really clear, for example, why Henry is taking a knife to Ben’s stomach, even though it’s kind of a big deal). The effects work was brilliant, for the most part, with a commendable amount of physical work that I especially appreciated.
And most of all, it was Derry, and it was the kids. They got both of those pretty well dead on, quibbles aside, and if you get them right, you’ll always have yourself a show.
I’ll be very interested to see how Chapter 2 plays out, and I wonder if, some time down the line, there’ll be a dvd/blu ray supercut that edits the two movies together, to try and recreate that duel timeline narrative that’s so integral to the storytelling of the novel.
But for now, I got to go and see IT at the cinema with my stepson in 2017, and not only did it not suck, it was an entertaining, and occasionally even brilliant moviegoing experience.
And I’ve got to confess, as the lights came up, and I saw the mostly full theatre of mostly teenage viewers pick up their coats, smiling, laughing, chatting about favourite moments, I felt an entirely unearned surge of pride.
Pride that a story I love so much still has the power to reach out and scare people.
By Joe X Young
A year on from the death of her husband Neil, Joan (Jessica Graham) and her best friend Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) are marking the anniversary by inviting old friends around for a bite to eat, a chat and a little revenge for their mistreatment of Neil. Assorted characters are introduced and dispatched in a variety of ways. Upon introduction there’s a board showing a menu of what that person will be eating which ties into their personality and the whole thing begins as something initially dry with the first character before becoming flippant with the second, alternating the mood throughout. The dialogue is sharp and witty and I found myself laughing out loud at the antics of the second guest, only 20 minutes into the film and it was already highly enjoyable even though really removed from the norm.
One of the more unusual aspects is that the guests are not all sitting together at a table in an Agatha Christie ’10 Little Indians’ style or indeed a ‘The Last Supper’ weekly dispatching, but are all turning up one at a time on the same night with scarcely a beat between when one person is killed and another one rings the doorbell.
Obviously things don’t actually stay according to plan and there are moments when the dinner-table turns and some housekeeping needs to be done, which I found to be not only highly realistic but massively amusing.
The trailer for this film does what the majority of trailers do in as much as it cherry-picks what is considered to be some of the better parts of the action but in this case the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. It’s a tough call because much of what makes this film so entertaining is character dynamics and not the murders, but the dynamics wouldn’t be quite so enticing than the more gruesome aspects.
Of particular note here are, well, basically the whole cast, as they are all superb so it’s hard to single them out. This really is Jessica Graham’s film though as she’s the most involved character and perfect in all aspects.
There’s a little something extra to this film and I won’t dare to tell you what it is but it has to be one of the most well thought out endings I’ve ever seen.
It’s a short review, but to say more about it would require going into more detail, which could spoil it for you, suffice to say that there’s enough of interest going on and the film goes by at such a pace that it never drags and is quite brilliant, highly recommended.
by Joe X Young
Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, a film can grab my attention right from the get-go. The Gatehouse is one such film. The reason for the attention grabbing is that it’s actually off to a quite endearing start with a father and daughter who, armed with a small spade, are going treasure hunting in the woods for a gift he planted there.
Now I have to be absolutely honest about this, I like this film BUT it’s probably not going to appeal to those wanting or expecting something along the lines of ‘Mama’ or ‘The Babadook’ as The Gatehouse has only one real flaw but it’s something of a biggie: It has a severe identity crisis.
Here’s the deal, it has a basic spook story setup with the father, Jack Winter (Simeon Willis), being a writer who is not doing so well with having both financial troubles through lack of work and the recent loss of his wife in a boating accident. The father is a somewhat likeable yet troubled soul as he keeps imagining the less than healthy looking ghost of his dead wife everywhere. He is played with such depth as to be thoroughly credible even when he’s losing his temper with his daughter out of the sheer frustration of life.
The daughter, 10 year old Eternity (Scarlett Rayner), appears at first to be a charmer; she’s hopeful of at some point finding buried treasure in the woods so she can help her dad financially. Sweet kid, yes? Well she would be if she wasn’t prone to being mouthy, pissing off eligible babysitters and buggering things up through clumsiness, some of which is slightly comic. The relationship between father and daughter here is superb, they come across as not just father and daughter but as the best of friends but not in an artificial and sickly way as Eternity is somewhat unruly and needs to be brought under control occasionally. Scarlett Rayner who plays Eternity has only two film credits to her name, The Gatehouse being the first and obviously major role which is very well deserved, brilliantly acted and I dare say she could make it big in the film industry. I know that’s a reaching statement for someone just starting out in acting but she really is that good.
She does contribute one of the elements of the identity crisis to this film as there are moments which are comical yet her delivery is deadpan. Is it a horror film or is it a comedy? It was presented to me as horror, but having seen it I’m not so sure if it’s a horror, a comedy horror, a dark fantasy or something defying a label as it seems to be slipping in and out of expectation at random. It also slips out of POV as suddenly Jack starts narrating the story for a few minutes. It’s all a bit messy, and normally I’d be trashing it like the hard to please sonofabitch I am, but this film seems so casual that it gets away with it all.
Aside from the bad dreams the father is having, in some of which he sees his drowned wife in various situations and others in which he’s harming his daughter in very grisly ways there’s also an ancient curse, a tree god in the woods and a sinister landowner called Algernon Sykes played by Linal Haft who helps the creepy tone of the film along nicely. So far there’s a whole formulaic backing but it’s not actually playing out that way as there are plenty of somewhat subdued ‘jump scares’ which I believe are actually downplayed deliberately with no hyperactive foley.
As mentioned there are parts of this film which seem to be played for low-key laughs which although incongruous actually work in what is an absorbing film with fantastical elements.
It takes quite a while, roughly 50 minutes until something genuinely horrific happens, but when it does it’s certainly unexpected and quite bizarre for a film allegedly based on true events. I’m usually pissed off by films which take too damned long to get some meat on the bones but this film is different. I was, as usual, hoping for a horror film which even if it didn’t scare the living shit out of me would at least deliver a chill or two and this one doesn’t really scare but it’s still pretty good.
There are lovely performances throughout, with nobody coming across as amateur and the youngest member of the cast is every bit as competent as more senior actors such as Linal Haft and Paul Freeman (Probably best remembered for his persistent attempts to steal the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones).
It’s got undertones of The Goonies about it with none of that film’s action but a lot more darkness preventing it actually being a tale for children. It’s one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a good long time, but one that I actually enjoyed throughout even though it has a severe identity crisis.
Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft, Paul Freeman, Hannah Waddingham, Alix Wilton Regan, and Melissa Knatchbull star in a Martin Gooch film.
Available 12/5 on Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.