Ginger Nuts of Horror
Out now on all major VOD is The Forlorned, taken from the book by Angela J Townsend who also co-wrote the screenplay and served as executive producer
Spooky films are commonplace, low-budget ones even more so, but what is rare is a low-budget spooky film with genuine atmosphere and good acting. The Forlorned has a simple enough haunted house premise with just enough about it to make it more interesting than the average. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this being the film’s tighter focus on a central character whose experiences we follow rather than the shifting perspectives of having half a dozen model types scene stealing whilst running and screaming all over the place. The Forlorned benefits from a slow pace and solid performances without feeling the need for any flashiness.
Tom Doherty needs work and so he applies for a job doing maintenance and restoration work on an island lighthouse and properties in Nova Scotia, Canada. Little does he know that the island is so haunted that none of the locals wanted the job. It’s a reasonable set up, with the opening scenes stating what actually happened in 1812, which to my way of thinking might have been better if it had been expanded upon as the relevant segments are somewhat short. That is not to say that the film suffers for this, just that it may have made an already good film a lot better, however there’s always the possibility that what follows through the bulk of the film may have appeared too sedate in comparison.
Colton Christensen excels in the role of Tom Doherty, I watch one hell of a lot of low-budget horror films, a vast amount of which have lead characters who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag and are mostly hired for glamour rather than talent. Colton Christensen is a refreshing change in that he looks as if he could genuinely be the kind of person he is portraying, moreover he actually acts as if he is just a handyman in a haunted house. It’s a performance worthy of a main character in a Stephen King film, which this isn’t, but having said that it did remind me of one of my favourite spooky films, Stephen King’s 1408, which the build-up in The Forlorned for the most part manages to emulate without being derivative as it utilises familiar tropes but gives them enough tweaks to separate them from the mainstream. 1408 is superior but so was the budget, yet The Forlorned delivers the goods with as much style.
The supporting cast for the most part have an air of awkwardness about them consistent with their roles, suitably restrained, with no outstanding performances or characters overshadowing Tom Doherty so we keep all eyes on him as we are supposed to. It’s a very clever balance. Elizabeth Mouton as Amy is introduced somewhat late in the proceedings, giving careful exposition at the same time as setting up the denouement.
The production team have all done a fine job, the muted colour schemes lend a beautiful atmosphere and the special effects are excellent. All in all with a plethora of ghosts, Demonic hogs, deranged violence and a thoroughly believable descent into madness The Forlorned is good enough to stand a second viewing.
By Stewart Horn
An abortion clinic is attacked by Christian extremists; doctors are murdered and, impossibly, an aborted fetus is rescued.
Twenty years later a family gather for a traditional Christmas, but there are divisions and tensions within the family - some of them obviously don't want to be there and it's uncomfortable even before it all goes crazy.
The matriarch wants a happy final Christmas together before she sells the family home and sets off for a jolly round the world, but her kids think she's abandoning them and spending their inheritance. The eldest sister is very prim and married to a clergyman, who seems the equally uptight but spies on another couple having sex then retires to a wardrobe for ahem... privacy. The other sister is heavily pregnant but still drinks, smokes pot and manages a lively sexual encounter with her partner. The youngest son seems the most normal despite having downs syndrome, and the elderly grandfather self-medicates with marijuana.
A stranger (whom we have already seen kill a neighbour) knocks on the door and the family invite him in, but when he starts spouting extreme religious views they throw him out again. The family settle down to dinner but the old resentments still seethe. It's almost a relief when the hooded stranger starts killing them.
As an exploration of family dynamics, this is cleverly observed, unflinching and cruel. The family continue to bicker even as their numbers dwindle, and nobody is portrayed as wholly sympathetic. The little mind games they play with each other are horrible. There is an odd contrast between the well crafted subtlety of these moments and the violence, which is grand guignol played for laughs. The scene with the kitchen blender could have been lifted from an early Peter Jackson film.
We've all had family occasions like this, when we offer a silent prayer that an axe-wielding madman will come in and kill us all so we don't have to suffer our terrible families for another moment. I can't think of a film that has captured that feeling better than this one. Excellent festive fayre.
Park Circus celebrate this coming Halloween with a release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Screening in over 100 cinemas – for one night only, on 31 October – audiences can enjoy this remarkable thriller on the big screen once again at cinemas throughout the UK, plus selected European and Latin American territories. ( Click here for full details of screenings )
Accompanying the film on its release to cinemas is a bonus seven-minute documentary, Work & Play: A Short Film About The Shining (2017), directed by Matt Wells for Park Circus.
Park Circus is a leading global sales agency and distribution company. We proudly represent over 25,000 films from Hollywood and British studios and a large number of independent rights owners. Working with rights holders, producers, distributors and cinemas, our aim is to share the wonderful films we represent with audiences on both the big and small screen.
All work and no play makes Oscar-winning actor JackNicholson - the caretaker of an isolated resort - go way off the deep end, terrorising his young son and wife (Shelley Duvall). Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who’s come to the elegant, isolated Overlook Hotel as off-season caretaker. Torrance has never been there before or has he? The answer lies in a ghostly time warp of madness and murder. Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s visually haunting chiller, based on the bestseller by master-of-suspense Stephen King, is an undeniable contemporary classic. Newsweek called The Shining “the first epic horror film,” full of indelible images, and a signature role for Nicholson whose character was recently selected by the American Film Institute as one of their 50 Greatest Villains. Accompanying the film is Work and Play: a short film about The Shining (2017), directed by Matt Wells for Park Circus. This short documentary brings together new personal reflections from Kubrick’s collaborators and unseen materials from his personal archives to shed light on this unique cinematic achievement. Featured in the documentary are: Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Twins), Garrett Brown (inventor and operator of the Steadicam), Diane Johnson (co-screenwriter on The Shining), Katharina Kubrick (Stanley Kubrick’s daughter) and Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s producing partner and brother-in-law)
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’ve seen five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the last month. 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 was back in front of the biggest screen in London to see Kubrick's take on early King classic, The Shining. Fortified by a shot of Jack Daniels and a double helping of Ben and Jerry’s cookies dough ice cream, I sank into my seat and prepared myself for what was to come.
And, I mean, I’m no stranger to this film. My number of viewings are easily into double figures, between the taped-from-TV VHS and later DVD copy. But some smart arse had told me I hadn’t really seen it unless it was on the big screen. And said smart arse was very, very right.
For starters, none of the flaws apparent with the film stock in Carrie applied here. Kubrick's decision to film in 35mm meant that this extended cut of the film was crystal clear. Indeed, the opening aerial shots (shots I don’t think I’d previously really registered on my small screen viewings) were of such breathtaking quality that I ended up with mild vertigo. They are absolutely beautiful, and established the qualitative difference this viewing experience would prove to be.
And it’s an almost unforgivably pedestrian observation to note that this film is beautifully shot, but again, I think I’d failed to appreciate just how beautiful it is until it was filling my entire field of vision. In addition to the aforementioned opening sequences, the cavernous interiors of The Overlook, the claustrophobic caretaker's quarters, and the giant imposing hedge maze all felt realer, somehow - as if I were actually there.
That, I think, was the central insight that I got from this viewing - in this film, it felt to me that the camera was acting as a window into the world of the movie. A combination of the clarity of the image, the size of the screen, and the exquisite camera work all contrived to make me feel like I was myself a ghost of The Overlook, floating around it’s halls and observing the emerging psychodrama, with no power to intervene. Its was a genuinely unsettling experience, quite unlike my previous small screen viewings.
I also got a lot more out of the performances this time. I was already of the opinion that Shelley Duvall’s work here was grossly underrated, and that was definitely reinforced. SImilarly, whilst I had fond memories of Scatman Crothers, I think I hadn’t fully appreciated just what an amazing job he does in that one big sitdown scene with Danny, in the Overlook kitchen. He has a ton to do, and most of it happens on his face, with his careful consideration of what and how much to say, and his awe at Danny’s power. It’s a brilliantly controlled performance, and does so much to help set the early tone of dread that permeates the whole film.
But I have to say that the biggest single surprise for me was Nicholson.
The director of my local youth theatre used to dismissively describe The Shining as ‘Jack Nicholson overacting with an axe’, and I think that impression had largely stuck with me. And I’m not about to argue that his performance is restrained or muted - that would make me madder than him, and even I don’t have that level of crazy - but I don’t think I’d appreciated just how controlled most of it is.
The first bar scene I think best typifies what I’m talking about. His conversation with Lloyd is, yes, big, even grandiose… but it’s also incredibly precise, each gesture, choice of vocal inflection considered. Jack Torrance is lying in this scene - lying to Lloyd, of course, but also, in the mode that addicts and people of violence often find themselves, lying to himself - but it’s also clear from Nicholson's performance that, on some level, not far below the surface, he knows he is lying to himself. It’s really impressively layered stuff, and it’s absolutely all going on, in the choices he makes with every line. It’s honestly kind of breathtaking - or at least, I found it to be so - but/and also… well, okay, I’ll just say it, there’s a subtlety at work there, right under the surface bluster.
I’m not going to claim there aren't some OTT moments for him as the movie progresses, that would be unsupportable. But I am saying that there is a level of craft in the performance that I simply hadn’t seen before - a subtlety that I only appreciated, ironically, when presented with the performance in a supersized environment.
As to the rest of the movie - I mean, what can I say that hasn’t been said? It’s almost all true. It’s spectacularly shot, the sound design is immaculate, it’s too damn long but that doesn’t matter because it’s so damn good. Kubrick clearly doesn’t care about women much, but that doesn’t stop Shelley Duvall turning in a masterclass in performance, the kid is amazing, and it’s creepy as hell.
It’s absolutely, indisputably, a masterpiece of modern cinema. It’s a work of art.
But as a movie going experience, I much prefered Carrie, with all it’s flaws and dirt and humanity. There’s a clinical coldness to The Shining. That doesn’t diminish it’s brilliance - in fact I’d argue it’s part and parcel of it, that layer of ice adding to the awful clarity of the experience - but it does make the film, for me, harder to love. It’s not quite that crass reductionist argument about ‘relatable characters’ - or at least, I hope not - rather, there’s something about the relentless, unforgiving precision of the piece that I find holds me at arm's length, and whilst I can appreciate it a great deal, I can never embrace it, never love it.
Carrie, on the other hand… yeah, Carrie I can love. Carrie has a heart - bruised and bloody, you bet, but beating just the same.
The Shining is one of the finest pieces of cinema I’ve ever been privileged to witness, and yes, it is resolutely a big screen experience.
But I actually think Carrie is a better movie.
It was certainly one hell of a double bill, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to go. Next up - the 2017 smash hit adaptation of IT.
PS - If the above has whet your appetite to see The Shining on the big screen - and to be clear, I would heartily recommend you do so, if you haven’t - there’s a limited cinematic run happening click here for details on where you can experience it in all its cinematic glory, which will include a 7 minute short film called ‘Work and Play’. This short is a delightful addition to the main movie, featuring short contemporary interviews with select cast and crew members, and focusing mainly on Kubrick - the artist and the man. The discussion of the serendipitous introduction of Steadicam was particularly interesting, as was the conversation with Kubrick’s daughter, which shed a much needed humanizing light on a director whose public image is often so cold and aloof. All in all, a lovely appetizer for the main course."
In recent years, horror anthology movies have returned to prominence in a big way. Which makes sense, as their very nature is ideal for independent filmmakers looking to get their names out there. After all, the time-honored tradition of making short films to hone your craft and show people what you’re capable of does have one major drawback: Namely, the market for short films is pretty damn small.
If, however, you can pool resources with a few like-minded filmmakers and link a handful of shorts together, then, voila, you got yourself a marketable feature. Each segment can have its own cast, crew, and budget, and each one is a lot shorter to film than a more long-form production. Thus, if anything goes wrong, there’s less of a chance the whole project will tank; maybe one short doesn’t get done but you still have several others, or if it’s the reverse, well, you may not have a full feature but at least you have a finished short.
For creators, the dangers are relatively low and the benefits are high. Likewise for the audience, who can sample a variety of up-and-coming directors and enjoy multiple stories without having to commit to a single two-hour narrative.
Which brings us to Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories, the follow-up to 2015’s Volumes of Blood. Bringing together eight different segments from six different filmmakers, the movie’s low-budget roots may be plain as day, but so is the passion its creators have for the genre, with every single segment playing out as a gleeful seriocomic celebration of gory b-movie fun.
First up is “Murder Death Killer,” in which a break-in goes awry for a trio of white-trash criminals who find themselves on the run from an undead scarecrow. Then, in “Haters,” a pair of obnoxious horror-movie purists become cannon fodder for a real-life slasher after getting kicked out of the multiplex for disrupting a showing of the latest Hollywood remake. Yet another murderer is on the loose in “Trick or Treat,” but he may not be the only one hunting his chosen prey.
“A Killer House” lives up its name when a pair of hopeful homeowners get the grisly grand tour from a sinister realtor. After that, “Feeding Time” sees an awkward insurance salesman seduced by a prospective customer who is convinced there’s a monster in her closet. Then “Blood Bath” takes its title literally, as a young couple’s shower-time sexcapades are rudely interrupted by a carnivorous bathtub.
In a yuletide twist on the French film À l'intérieur, “Fear, For Sinners Here” sees the home of a gift-wrapping mama invaded by a crazed Christmas caroler seeking vengeance for losing out on the hottest toy of the season. Finally, in “The Deathday Party,” a married couple of suburban serial killers spend hubby’s b-day dealing with annoying neighbors, a feisty would-be victim, and, worst of all, hemorrhoids.
Interestingly, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories boasts a pretty eccentric structure. Rather than presenting a procession of unconnected shorts separated by title cards, or a collection of tales told by a narrator in a bookending wraparound segment, the stories here are actually nested inside of one another, then connected together by a somewhat tangled web.
For example, one story is revealed to be a movie being watched by the protagonists of the next story. Another story contains a flashback which leads to a completely separate story, which itself involves revelations that segue into several other stories. Think Trick ‘R Treat, but sloppier. It’s an interesting approach, and clever in a metafictional sort of way, but it also feels unnecessarily convoluted, especially if you’re, say, a reviewer trying to explain things in a concise, spoiler-free write-up for The Ginger Nuts of Horror. Ahem.
Like many modern anthologies in the cobbled-together multi-director mold of V/H/S, XX, and The ABCs of Death, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories has some telling problems that are a direct result of its chosen format. This new school of anthology may be a great way to expose audiences to a diverse array of talents, but it lacks the level of cohesion that even the most unbalanced of Amicus’ portmanteaus typically managed.
Surprisingly, despite the variety of creators at the helm here, one issue the film suffers from is a lack of variety in its stories. Where the best anthologies tend to offer a three-ring circus of tropes—maybe a vampire story here, a ghost story there, etc.—most of the segments here are basically miniature slasher movies. Too many focus on decidedly human killers, resulting in the final product feeling overall a bit same-y.
It might have helped if there weren’t actually so many stories on offer. As it is, eight segments is a few too many, with several running too short anyway. There’s a reason most of the classic omnibus films of yesteryear limited themselves to three or four segments; doing that allowed each story just enough time to breathe and to establish what made it different from the others. It’s not for nothing that “Fear, For Sinners Here” (which has a much slower pace than the stories surrounding it) proves a noteworthy standout with its methodical development of atmosphere and suspense.
Despite these negatives, though, Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories also has some very big positives in its favor. Chief among them is that it’s clearly a movie clearly for horror fans, by horror fans. With its parade of masked maniacs, a driving retro-synth soundtrack, and some truly fist-pumpingly cool gore gags (you’ve got to love that messy vacuum-cleaner exsanguination, the sharpened peppermint-stick stabbing, the anal impalement, and those pools of blood swimming with candy corn and broken teeth), the film oozes with love for the genre. The raucous psychobilly attitude and ever-present tongue-in-cheek sense of humor makes it obvious the filmmakers had a blast making this. It’s easy for that energy to rub off on you.
Sure, the efforts to tie in characters and story elements from the first Volumes of Blood (not to the mention attempts to set things up for continuation in a third film) may be clumsy, but the overall effect if you’ve seen the previous movie is nevertheless potent. If nothing else, it will surely make you eager for the next one.
STRIKING CINEMATOGRAPHY and AMBIGUOUS storytelling make for a beguiling film
Gunnar is an academic approaching middle age, in a relationship with a much younger man, Einar. When they split up Einar seems to be talking about suicide. A few months later Gunnar (in bed with an even younger man) is woken in the night by a mysterious phone call and he sets off to the cabin in the wilderness where Einar is.
The relationship stutteringly rekindles but both men have secrets, and there seems to be someone else lurking around in the night. There's a suspicious neighbour, a creepy old man and a sinister hitchhiker, a murder, or perhaps a suicide, and possibly a ghost.
I almost don't want to say anything else and risk detracting from the experience. We see everything through Gunnar's unreliable eyes so for a lot of the film we have only a vague idea what's going on, yet that uncertainty adds to the film's charm. There are no silly jump scares, rather a carefully built creeping dread made worse by our lack of confidence in the narrator.
What makes this film really special is the photography - Iceland has never looked so beautiful. The vistas are vast and spectacular and almost unbearably gorgeous, yet cold and impersonal and dangerous, perfectly reflecting the relationship between the two men. One imagines the inside of Gunnar's head being miles of flat volcanic plain with treacherous rifts and snow-capped hills in the distance.
If I have a complaint, it's that it shied away from controversy and offence, in a self-conscious way. There is nudity but it's carefully choreographed so that we only see glimpses of a buttock; there is a sweet sex scene that cuts off to (an albeit stunningly beautiful) shot of the aurora borealis over the cabin. And paedophilia hangs over the film like a turgid shadow but is never explored. Perhaps the rules in Iceland are more strict but for me those things slightly detracted from the veracity of the film.
This is an absolutely beautiful film, highly recommended.
There's a surfeit of horror and bags of laughs to be had during what is probably one of the most brutal gorefests on TV
For me it's 'The Chin for the Win' as 'Ash vs Evil Dead': Season 2 arrives on Blu-ray™ and DVD 23 October 2017.
Unless you've been living in a vacuum for the past thirty years you can't help but have encountered Bruce Campbell in 'The Evil Dead' films as they are somewhat legendary and quite probably the best horror/comedy franchise ever devised. Back in late 2015 the movie fans such as myself eagerly anticipated the release of the announced TV version, our hopes were that it would contain similar irreverent comedy and gore as the original films, even if it needed to be somewhat watered down for modern TV sensibilities, however that wasn't to be. It was better. We were treated to ten glorious episodes of horror action, vile special effects and one liners worthy of, or indeed better than, the original outings, with the main man 'Ash Williams' (The chin himself, Bruce Campbell) once more dishing out a much needed dose of justice to those pesky little 'Deadites'.
If you haven't seen the first series I will bring you up to speed in a basic, non-threatening and major spoiler-free way.
Roughly 30 years have passed since Ash took on the Deadites in the 1300s, and he's back in the present day and working as a stock-boy in a supermarket. All very low key, but he seems content to go through the motions until once again he encounters the Deadites. As he is well aware of what they are and what to do about them he's duty bound to kick some Deadite butt, ably assisted by two of his co-workers 'Pablo' (Ray Santiago), and 'Kelly' (Dana DeLorenzo). There's more to this than just defeating Deadites, as Ash also has to battle against the mysterious and formidable 'Ruby' (Lucy Lawless) and her nightmarish 'children'. There's a surfeit of horror and bags of laughs to be had during what is probably one of the most brutal gorefests on TV and each episode left me wishing it was an hour longer as I believe it's even better than the original three movies.
Okay? Still with me? Here we go for season two:
Season two brings even more to the table with a piling on of the action, more blood and guts, the inevitable laughs and the introduction of Lee Majors (TV’s “The Six Million Dollar Man”) as Ash’s father. When Ash returns to his home town of Elk Grove things are about to take a turn for the nasty as he has to deal with Ruby and encounters a whole new set of problems involving the demon Baal, the Necronomicon and as if things couldn't get any worse, a bunch of joyriders who steal Ash's beloved Delta, yes folks, that heap of junk is still running!
I was happy to see Ash Vs Evil Dead mainly because there's so little like it out there in the horror world, so to have it return as a TV series of such high quality was simply inspired, and I'm glad to say that it works perfectly. All of the cast are superb, with credible personalities and even in a horror series played for laughs there are moments which really grab a hold as these are people you can't help but care about because the character development is exceptional, taking what could be just basic sidekicks and villains and giving them real depth. I dare you not to fall at least a little in love with the hilariously potty-mouthed 'Ashy Slashy', you'll see what I mean when you watch it. Chief (or indeed 'Jefe') among the cast is of course Bruce Campbell who does a sterling job of continuing the role he made famous thirty years ago as if he'd never been anyone else other than our favourite chainsaw/gauntlet armed, boomstick wielding hero.
If you're a fan of the original films then you really need to see the series, and if you're a fan of season one then you'll find season two to be even better. I know I did.
'Ash vs Evil Dead': Season 2 arrives on Blu-ray™ and DVD 23 October 2017 so it's out NOW and contains plenty of extras.
There are certain things I am wary of when reviewing films, one of which is the independent multitasker, that very common animal who writes, directs, produces and even composes the score for the film as well as giving himself the starring role. These films are usually to be avoided like the plague. J Van Auken was obviously a very busy man as he wore all of those various hats. Revelator is one of those rare exceptions in which he didn’t stretch his talents too thinly as this film is totally engrossing and J Van Auken as the principal character is flawless in the portrayal.
The basics are that there’s this guy John who can see ghosts, not everyone believes him, yet with sufficient interest from certain people he gets a degree of credibility he’d rather not have as he is much sought after but not always in a good way. Valerie (Mindy Rae), a journalist of the ‘top 10 lists’ variety sets her sights on finding out the truth about John’s abilities and either exposing him or promoting him, as in her world Internet clicks equal cash in pocket.
The last heir to the Bellvue fortune has died, and there are questions regarding legitimacy of the cause, so John is called upon for answers even though the family believe him to be a fraud. Valerie invites herself along and generally interferes in spite of John’s reluctance to get involved.
The film is shot in very muted colours with an overall feeling of drudgery, this works beautifully as it lends a more sombre tone to complement John’s personality. On that note, J Van Auken who plays John, doesn’t appear to be acting at all, his movements, speech patterns and general demeanour are exactly as one would expect of a person in his predicament. There is good if not limited support from other cast members but chiefly it’s the MC’s film and one which is all the better for it.
So far this may not sound enticing, especially if you’re a fan of non-stop gore and jump scares, though don’t write it off as although there is a small amount of gore this film is not about that, it’s about John, and the character portrayal there is complex and perfectly performed. There’s a lot to be said for films such as ‘Paranormal Jump-Scares Part 27’ or whatever other cash cow the movie industry churns out for $$$$$$, and I don’t mind admitting that although I find a lot of them boring, some of them can be fun, yet I would gladly trade a dozen such films for one such as Revelator. It’s a class act and if there’s ever a follow-up I’d be happy to see it.
Typically when it takes two years for a film to get a DVD release, the alarm bells have been ringing loud for some time. Originally produced in 2015, but only now getting a UK DVD release The Unraveling is a film that wouldn't usually have got a second glance had this been known at the time.
Thankfully, the fact that it took two years for it to get a DVD release wasn't known when the review request came in, as this is a little gem of a film.
Michael has been trying to shake his heroin addiction. He has promised his pregnant girlfriend to whom he is about to marry, that he is clean, but that is not quite the truth. His friends stage a fake kidnapping as a prank for his bachelor party, and Michael is hooded up and hauled off into the woods. But without his fix, Michaels withdrawals start to kick in. After one of his friends is found dead the rest of the group begin to feel increasingly scared and tormented and are thrown into a desperate game of survival as the mysterious killer rages on.
Now while this all seems rather familiar, prank going wrong, something nasty lurking in the backwoods, friendships put to the test, campers being picked off one by one The Unraveling is not only more than it seems, but it is more than its constituent parts.
Key to the success of the film is in the use of a well realised and well-written use of the unreliable narrator. While the film is seen from the points of view of everyone, we the viewer experience the film from Michael's perspective, where his going cold turkey allows for a disorientating and confusing unraveling of the narrative.
For the most part, the film plays out like a thousand other films that have gone before it, but this done on purpose, as it lures the viewer into a false sense of security, where they believe they know exactly what is going on. But thanks to some clever touches and flourishes The Unraveling keeps the viewer on foot for the duration of the film.
Strong performances from the cast in general and a reliable and assured direction from Thomas Jakobsen ensure that this film remains taut and claustrophobic throughout its entire length. Aided by some beautiful cinematography and some confident editing The Unraveling's cinematic canvas is just as entrancing to watch as the action on screen.
The Unraveling is one of that rare breed of films that manages to break away from confines of its genre trappings to deliver a film that far outweighs any preconceived expectations the viewer may have going in. In the words of a certain song "If you go down in the woods today, You're sure of a big surprise."
I really wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see ‘The Ritual’, the 2017 big screen adaptation of Adam Nevill’s novel. I’ll admit to not having read the book, a fact I do now intend to rectify, but nor had I seen more than a short trailer for it. A trailer which, I feel I should mention, was great. It gave nothing away, except the basic premise. I’d actually use this trailer as an example for how to set out your stall as a filmmaker. Lure the audience in, give them the basic idea the story is about, but don’t do what most Hollywood studios seem to do these days, which is to give the whole thing away in trailer. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several films in the past year where the entire plot, including twists and turns that ought to be a surprise, could be seen in the trailer. The Ritual avoided this deftly. So we were off to a good start.
Unusual (and often difficult) a concept as it may be in the era of trailers acting as mini-movies, I quite like going into a film blind. I have one of those cards that lets me see an unlimited number of films every month, so that often means I see things I might not otherwise bother with if I had to pay each time. This in turn helps with the feeling of going in not quite sure what you were going to see. Now, I’d have paid to see the Ritual, of course, as it’s based on the work of a writer whose books I enjoy, and also the fact that it’s a horror film would probably be enough to get me in there. But even though it was a film already on my radar, the marketing had been clever enough that I knew little about the plot. And so into the cinematic woods I went.
I feel it’s necessary to put “Spoiler Alert” here, as I will be discussing points of the film in a manner that can’t really be done without them. Unless you want to read an article full of “that bit was good where a thing happened I can’t mention”, then I’m afraid spoilers are a necessity.
The film opened with a crucial scene introducing the characters, and the event that would bring them to their hiking holiday in Sweden. The five men who are to be the main characters of the film are on a night out discussing ideas for holidays, when two of them wander into a late night supermarket for a bottle of Vodka. Then things go south fast when the shop is subject to a brutal robbery which takes the life of one of the men. It was both a strong and unusual opener for a horror film, as it could have been placed in any number of genres. There was nothing particularly ‘horror film’ about that opening, and therein lied its strength. You could have been about to watch a ‘coming to terms’ drama, a buddy film about friends regaining their love for another, or even a revenge film or crime drama. So real, so honest was that opening scene, that you felt like you were in the real world. That, for me, was a rarity in the world of modern horror films. I recently saw the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and whilst I loved the film, five minutes in and I’m watching a clown with monster teeth eating a child in a storm drain. This didn’t take place anywhere near the real world, and so there was inevitably an immediate disconnect that reduced how impactful the scares might be. You could in no way say this about the opening scene of the Ritual, however.
We see the four men, Luke, Hutch Sam and Phil, as they go about their hiking holiday, some more willingly than others. One of the key plot points is the mixed feelings about Luke’s inaction when their friend Robert was killed in the opening robbery scene. None of them say it out loud (at least not yet), but the event has clearly scarred the friendship of the group. And that’s a tangible feeling as you watch them interact. The banter and camaraderie never seems far from awkwardness and tension. All of this added to the feeling that I was watching something real, set right here in the same world that I occupy.
It doesn’t take long for the holiday to take a turn for the negative, either, and then all those emotions start to pour out. It’s a wonderful observation of Britishness, particularly amongst men, that we don’t just talk shit out. We smile and have a pint and wait for the whole thing to blow over. Except it doesn’t, of course. Some things need to be talked about, however difficult, and the mounting tension of the holiday’s mishaps forces a verbal confrontation that damages the friendships within the group further. I thought this was particularly realistic, once again. Anyone who’s ever been on a hiking holiday, or exerting daytrip or anything of the sort, knows how quickly it can all turn sour. All it takes is one person wearing the wrong shoes and complaining about their feet two hours into it, or having forgotten to bring enough water, and the friendly banter becomes vicious sniping, all egged on by tiredness and cold. The guys in The Ritual portray this fact perfectly. Frankly the trip starts to seem like a bit of a nightmare before the scary stuff even happens.
When it does make itself known, the ‘horror’ element of the film keeps itself as close to being realistic as it can for a good long while. I can imagine finding a creepy cabin in the woods, completely with a bizarre effigy of an unknown creature, and yet still opting to spend the night there rather than out in the storm. This is the real world, after all; monsters don’t exist. Despite jokes to the contrary, none of the characters (at this stage) actually think there’s anything in those woods beyond a bear or hunters or inbred hicks. Certainly nothing supernatural. Because why would you think that?
The slow, deliberately subtle and ‘held off’ appearance of the monster thrilled me. When you actually see the design, which I won’t describe, it’s beautiful. It looks like nothing I’ve ever seen in a horror film before, which I was ecstatic about. Usually they just look like a “Beautiful People” era Marilyn Manson these days, so a refreshing change was welcome. The explanation of its origins was also suitably vague. I like vagueness in my horror. The convenient discovery of a book or computer file or other maguffin that explains everything always takes the magic out of it. In The Ritual we get enough to steer us in the direction intended, and account for some of the supernatural abilities the creature seems to exhibit (it’s not just a mindless beast like a Bigfoot or something), but without going into a full backstory for it. That would have ruined it, so I found this to be a wise decision.
I was expecting to be annoyed by the presence of the ‘backwoods crazies’, even if they weren’t American hicks in this instance. I find them to be an annoying trope, whether they’re in adventure films or horror. They’re often just something for the characters to shoot at or hit when the CGI budget is being saved for a few scenes of not having the monster in. Like a videogame where the big boss backs away and you’re forced to endure minions for a few minutes until he pops back down into the arena. That wasn’t the case here, though. The story of these people wasn’t exactly explored in depth, but nor did it need to be. As with the monster itself, we got given enough to steer us where we needed to be. The revelation that these people didn’t actually ‘worship’ the thing in the modern loving sense of the word, but rather did so out of pure fear like the Old Testament meaning of the word was a nice surprise. Once again it made everything so much more realistic. A bunch of people in the woods worshipping a monster instead of going out into the world and resuming their nice normal lives makes a lot more sense when you realise it’s not done entirely through their own free will and adoration of the beast.
I won’t go into the ending because I don’t want to give that away, but I found it very satisfying. I really did not know where it was going to end up. This didn’t feel like the sort of film where the ‘hero’ would suddenly arm himself to the teeth and fight back against the previously-invincible monster (it’s not an American film) but nor would I have liked if the characters had all just died horribly and we’d ended on a dropped camera or something as with so many other horror films set in the woods. This film needed a better ending than that. Something a little stronger, but also not completely unlikely given what we’d seen so far. And I liked what we got. I wasn’t sure that I did, at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I was happy with that round off. I would actually quite like to watch the film again now, knowing where it goes, as I suspect there are signs pointing to this before it gets there and I’d like to spot them.
So in closing, go and see this film. I’ve been recommending it to people all week since watching it, both as a good film in general but also as a good example of horror done well. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s not overly complicated and there’s no pretention to it, it just tells an engaging story very well.
by Stewart Horn
Jon Randall's life sucks. He's a middle-aged divorcee who can't seem to find a job or a girlfriend. He doesn't get on with his teenage daughters or his successful brother, and he has to look after his elderly father, in a house that seems to be haunted. It's almost as if he's cursed.
It transpires that, centuries ago when his ancestors arrived in America, the family made a deal with The Devil, who now lives in their barn, and they have to keep the deal going by sacrificing family members.
On this flimsy frame hangs an almost plotless muddle of scenes that really don't cohere well enough to move the narrative along. There are some good moments, like some of the family scenes and Jon's comically catastrophic dates, but it's all a bit leaden and lacks structure and drive.
A lot of what's wrong with it is down to budget. Anything potentially expensive, or that required the hiring of somebody who would want paid, happens off screen. So the girls do a lot of screaming and the men make shocked faces, but I get the feeling they don't know what they're supposed to be looking at. And neither does the writer.
It was never clear what the devil in the barn wanted, what the deal was, or why anybody did anything. And that uncertainty came across in the performances, whereby actors are delivering lines or running off somewhere just because that what the script says, with no reference to what the character wanted or what the consequences might be.
I notice in the credits that the film is "written, directed, shot and cut by F. C. Rabbath". That's probably why it doesn't quite work: a director can spot holes in a script and tighten things up, and an editor can take flabby scenes and make them lean and dramatic. One person doing everything has no critical input from anyone else.
However, the photography is nice. The shots are well set up on obviously decent cameras, and there is some nice slow motion drone footage in the establishing shots. The sound is well recorded and clear so we can hear every irrelevant and confusing word, and I liked the music.
So, really not recommended, but some bits worth looking at. Perhaps F. C. Rabbath will go on to collaborate with professionals on something better.