Tag Archives: horror

The Glass House

The Glass House is one of those silly, sensationalist, bombastic pieces of melodramatic domestic turmoil branding itself as the slickest thriller on the block. It thinks it’s a lot smarter, more suspenseful and shocking than it actually is and despite the fact that it’s a total riot of bad movie cliches and overcooked hoo-hah, I still had a bit of fun with it. The main reason it kind of works is casting; Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard are just watchable in anything no matter the quality, and here you get to see them play the world’s worst foster parents to two wayward orphans (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan). They at first seem like nice, caring folks: they’re rich, well put together, hospitable and live in a big old house atop a hill that’s just secluded enough to come in handy later when things go wrong. Soon it becomes apparent these two are whackos though. Skarsgard’s Terry is a dangerous manipulator who is hellbent on nabbing the kid’s four million trust fund left by their parents, while Lane’s Erin is an unstable junkie prone to weird outbursts and scary behaviour. It’s tough since no one really believes these kids and the whole thing circles the drain to one of those hilariously over the top forgone thriller conclusions that has a chase, several implausible fights, some cat and mouse stuff and plenty of villainous posturing from the two leads. Sobieski is always solid (see Joyride for a much better thriller starring her), Skarsgard no stranger to playing unhinged psychos and Lane although cast against her sweetheart type rocks the batshit chick aesthetic well. They’re all just stuck in such a formulaic, dull ass, waterlogged script that doesn’t step an inch out of line or do anything different than we’ve seen loads of times before. The only thing that really stands out beyond being adequate is the lighting, which really cracks on blu Ray. Other than that and the game performances it’s a trip through mediocrity town.

-Nate Hill

Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman

There’s no nice way to put this: Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is a fucking embarrassing mess of a film. It frequently looks very beautiful but stunning snowy visuals can only get you so far in a film whose story is so jagged it’s borderline nonexistent. Based on an airport thriller novel, this tries to be a grisly murder mystery in the vein of Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or something and ends up stumbling over its own lopsided narrative, getting lost in a sea of serial killer cliches and providing a host of excellent actors with basically jack shit to do.

Michael Fassbender is Detective Harry Hole (snicker), hard bitten Oslo lawman who comes across a serial murderer who leaves victim’s bloody scarves wrapped around an eerie looking snowman. So begins an impenetrable investigation dating decades back and relating (somehow) to a bunch of characters whose involvement just seems out of nowhere really. There’s a set of twins played by Chloe Sevigny, who always picks edgy, boundary pushing roles but seems listless and lost here. J.K. Simmons shows up briefly with a horrendous Norwegian accent as the police captain overseeing the case. Others meander in and out including Rebecca Ferguson, James D’arcy, Toby Jones, Adrian Dunbar and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Oh yeah and Val Kilmer too, playing a cop in flashbacks who lost his mind trying to find this killer, with godawful dubbing over his voice. At one point he actually steps out his office window and paces out onto a ledge like he wants nothing more than to escape this train wreck of a film. What a cast, just thrown to the winds.

I remember when the trailer for this came out, I couldn’t have been more excited for it. Snowy setting, eerie serial killer mystery, hard boiled cop with his own demons, I mean it’s so much up my alley it was practically knocking on my door. I answered by seeing the thing finally and wish I just stayed inside. The resulting film seems like it was thrown into a snowblower for editing and just launched across a field for release with little thought for character, incident, motivation, suspense or anything remotely engaging. It’s a shame because up until this, Alfredson’s track record was pretty impeccable. A straight up dud.

-Nate Hill

Ready Or Not

You ever have a game night with people who take that shit just a bit too seriously? Well for new bride Samara Weaving, such is most definitely the case. She’s marrying into an impossibly rich, pompous and slightly creepy family, and on the midnight stroke of her wedding night they want to play a game with her, an initiation rite of sorts. Could be Uno, could be checkers or crib, but god help them all if she pulls the hide and seek card. Ready Or Not is a brutal, breathless, hilarious and grisly horror comedy that plays like a big soup mix of Knives Out, The Evil Dead, The Most Dangerous Game, Meet The Parents, The Looney Toons and… well I shouldn’t compare it to all that much because it’s got its own thing going on too, and I fucking loved the dementedly high strung, black comedy saturated aesthetic.

Weaving is a phenomenal talent, who you’ll remember as the sinister but smokin hot Babysitter in the Netflix film of the same name. She bears such a striking resemblance to Margot Robbie that up until now it thought it *was* Margot in this flick, but she’s just as awesome. Basically she’s stuck in a grand old Clue-esque manor while her obnoxious, flippant, asshole in-laws hunt her down with antiquated weapons that look like they’re pilfered off that angry ass colonial hunter from Jumanji. There’s all kinds of hijinks, gory set pieces and an ending that is so off the map of WTF-ness and unexpected pandemonium I had to give it a the ol’ royal slow clap for effort and ingenuity. Scene stealers include the always deadpan Henry Czerny as the clan’s smarmy, perpetually cheesed off patriarch, Adam Brody as his very conflicted son and beloved Andie MacDowell as the two-faced dragon of a matriarch. This is tongue in cheek territory and then some, I mean the concept is right out of a darker version of Saturday Night Live or something. Weaving is just so great, turning white hot panic into exasperated anger and truly getting some exemplary, crowd pleasing moments of extreme violence, especially towards the family’s hapless butler (John Ralston). If you’re a fan of down n’ dirty, super gory and utterly hilarious horror mayhem, this is pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.

-Nate Hill

William Eubank’s Underwater

I’m pumped that I got to see William Eubank’s Underwater in theatres, because it’s the kind of giddy, delightful escapism that you don’t get on the big screen too often anymore. I love creature feature flicks, love SciFi, love films set underwater, there’s a feel akin to outer space that is just so immersive and enchanting. Throw in Kristen Stewart, who I love as an actress no matter how much hate y’all throw her way, and well this thing seems like it was made for me!

Seven miles down the Mariana Trench, a vast drilling expedition has made a bit to much of a racket and awoken something up on the ocean floor, something big, pissed off and scary as fuck. Stewart and her research team feel the repercussive effects about a mile further up on their rig, and in the first couple minutes of the film, all hell literally breaks loose. This is after a brief, moody and atmosphere setting introduction to Stewart’s Nora, a tough but damaged and fatalistic engineer whose survival instinct kicks in the minute things go haywire, evading extreme pressure, aquatic dementia, claustrophobia, panic and undersea monsters to stay alive along with her captain (Vincent Cassel) and crew that includes T.J. Miller as hysterical comic relief, John Gallagher Jr and Jessica Henwick as their research assistant who brings a sense of warmth and humanity in her excellent performance.

This is a tight, no nonsense B movie that hits the ground running, basically takes place in real time, has some very inventive biology for the creatures that I won’t spoil (there’s a WTF reveal in the third act that gave me chills) and feels like one long extended scene that somehow finds a few moments to actually make you feel for these people. Stewart rocks a blonde crew cut and sports bra, vaguely evoking Ripley from the Alien films but finding her own bleak, badass groove. Her final ‘fuck you’ to the aquatic beasts is a stand-up-and-fucking-cheer moment that solidifies her character as a capable, selfless and gritty heroine. This isn’t going to win any awards but it’s a shining example of the type of thing I want to go see at the multiplex: thrilling escapism, heroes to root for, nasty monsters from the deep places of the earth, a beautiful sense of style brought by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and wonderfully spooky, cathartic score composed by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. I couldn’t recommend this enough.

-Nate Hill

Jan De Bont’s The Haunting

It amazes me that anyone involved in the making of Jan De Bont’s The Haunting thought they were doing anything that could be classified as remotely ‘scary.’ The film barely deserves its PG-13 rating and quite honestly I’ve seen spookier ghosts in that Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion thing. Now, having said that: I do recommend seeing it for the absolutely stunning, breathtakingly elaborate production design and set artistry. The visuals are so beautiful they really deserve a better film to showcase, but oh well.

Basically silly professor Liam Neeson wants to study fear and it’s effects on people, so he places an ad and soon a few people have agreed to spend a night in gargantuan Hill House manor under the guise of a sleep deprivation experiment. Lili Taylor, who is no stranger to haunted houses now that she headlined The Conjuring, is someone I usually love but her performance here as the lead is grating, weird, shrill, dull, stilted and bizarre just to use a few adjectives. Catherine Zeta Jones fares better as a sassy bisexual babe who relishes line delivery and whose ornately beautiful aura slinks in nicely with that of the baroque estate. Owen Wilson is unfortunately also cast and gets saddled with the weirdo comic relief thing, falling flat in every scene and just coming across as vaguely neurologically damaged. Others fly by in smaller roles including Alix Koromzy, Todd Field, Virginia Madsen, Michael Cavanaugh, Tom Irwin, M.C. Gainey and Bruce Dern as the cranky caretaker.

There’s this half baked plot around the guy that built the place, kid’s souls trapped within and something about Taylor’s character being the reincarnation of his wife, which is a horror motif I’m honestly just so sick of. Really it’s just the cast bumbling about these gorgeous sets while things go bump, and occasionally unforgivably bad CGI giant hands reaching out of walls to give them a spank or two. It’s an unrepentant mess. But like I said before, these are some jaw dropping sets they’ve built, full of ornate detail and embellished craftsmanship, from a house of mirrors built into a carousel to a glass solarium complete with spiral staircases to a water featured corridor with book shaped stepping stones to what has to be the world’s largest walk-in fireplace and so much more. Honestly I’d just put it on with no volume, pull up an atmospheric playlist on Spotify and enjoy it sans dialogue or even it’s own score, to saturate yourself in the visual aspect.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Mary

There are worse ways to spend your lazy Sunday than watching Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer on a haunted sailboat. Mary is one in a handful of lower budget things that Oldman has insisted on doing lately despite being a desired actor of high acclaim (I didn’t write that last bit with a straight face FYI) and for the most part they’re to be avoided (the two pulpy crime ones with Jessica Alba and Olga Kurylenko are just shit), but I kind of enjoyed this maritime horror yarn for what it was. Oldman plays a fishing tour guide in coastal Florida who dreams of one day having his own boat and patching up his rocky marriage to spitfire Mortimer. Fate tracks him down in the form of the Mary, a mysterious derelict schooner up for auction. It needs a bit of work but there’s nothing a good montage can’t fix, then soon enough it’s out to sea for her maiden voyage with their two daughters and his trusty first mate (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, who is getting great traction these days). Midway through the voyage strange, supernatural stuff starts happening and it appears that this vessel is indeed haunted by the vengeful spirit of a drowned witch. I’m not going to talk up this thing for more than it is, it’s essentially a cheapie horror time killer and I probably wouldn’t have paid it any attention whatsoever without the presence of Oldman, who I’m a super fan of, and Mortimer who I have always really loved. This is the first time they’ve worked together and it’s really nice to see them onscreen, neither of them phone it in at all despite the fact that the material is clearly beneath them. Decent scares, atmospheric cinematography and solid performances from them make this worth a look. Just don’t get out the top hat and monocle or try and get really critical, because the only person you’ll disappoint is yourself.

-Nate

Yuletide Yarns: Nate’s Top Ten Christmas Films

Tis the season to check out Christmas in cinema! There’s a whole ton of festive films out there revolving around this time of year, ten of which I’ve picked out here as my cherished favourites! Oh and keep one thing in mind: A Christmas movie is a subjective thing and each individual is allowed to have whatever the hell they want in their Yuletide canon without a bunch of blockheads screaming “That’s not a Christmas movie” to the winds. Home Alone is a Christmas movie to many and perhaps to some The Mummy or Top Gun are also Christmas movies too for whatever personal reason or memory they hold dear. Anything you damn well please can be your “Christmas movie” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Got it? Good! Enjoy my list 😉

10. John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

An underrated one, to say the least. Pulpy, nihilistic and packed with ironically nasty energy substituting for holiday cheer, I love this ultra violent heist/revenge flick to bits. Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and an off-the-chain Gary Sinise are various degenerate characters involved in a casino robbery and the ensuing aftermath, murder, betrayal and tough talk. They’re all having a blast and there’s great supporting work from Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes, James Frain, a scene stealing Clarence Williams III plus the late great Fennis Farina.

9. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

A Christmas slasher yay!! This predates John Carpenter’s Halloween as the original genre prototype and is just such a fun, spooky old stalker flick with healthy doses of camp, plenty of creaky atmospheric portent and one of the freakiest villains the genre has to offer based on his voice alone. It’s Christmas break for a house of sorority girls in small town Ontario, which should mean rest, relaxation and good times. A deeply disturbed prank calling serial killer has other ideas though, tormenting them with perverse phone-calls and eventually outright hunting them through the drafty halls of the manor. Starring the beautiful, classy Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Margot Kidder and Nick Mancuso as the killer’s terrifying phone voice, this is a holiday classic for me, it practically fills up your living room with atmosphere when you put it on.

8. Joe Dante’s Gremlins

This is one of those ones that kind of works at Halloween too because it’s so gooey and horror-centric, but the quaint small town Christmas vibe is so pleasant and wonderful, right from the joyous opening titles set to Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas.’ One young man’s Christmas present goes haywire when cryptozoological Mogwai Gizmo and his clan get right out of control and cause a bigger holiday riot than Boxing Day at the mall. It’s like a Christmas party gone ballistic in the best, most mischievous ways and the fun lies in seeing these little green monsters terrorize, blow off steam and run around town destroying everything in their wake.

7. Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

I know what you’re thinking, but I actually prefer this rambunctious sequel over the iconic first Die Hard film. Switching up the action from a skyscraper to hectic, bustling and heavily snowed in LAX on Christmas Eve is just such a cozier, more festive setting, not to mention ripe for so much action, villainy and comedic bits. Way more characters, tons of cool cameos, a blinding snowstorm to create atmosphere and so many gorgeous explosions.

6. Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express

What a majestic film. People rip on this for being way too elaborate and hectic when compared to the simple, direct timbre of its source children’s book, but I love how far they took it. It’s a thrillingly cinematic, highly immersive rollercoaster ride to the North Pole packed with Carols, stunning motion capture animation, Tom Hanks in like four different roles *including* Santa, breathtaking swoops over northern landscapes and a genuine sense of wonder.

5. Ted Demme’s The Ref

Christmas ain’t always a loving, cherished time of year as you’ll see in this acidic, cynical and jet black comedy of family dysfunction, misanthropy and petty crime. Denis Leary is one pissed off cat burglar who hides out from the law with a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis who are basically the most unhappily married, hateful pair of grinches you could find in white suburbia. It’s a brilliantly satirical sendup of Christmas in the Midwest with terrific, off the wall performances from the three leads, a wicked sharp script and hilarious supporting work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, BD Wong and Raymond J. Barry.

4. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Christmas goes Gothic in my favourite of the initial four Burton/Schumacher Batman films. This is a seriously gorgeous gem of a film with Keaton at his moody best as Batman, Danny Devito creeping’ it up tons as the freaky weirdo Penguin, Christopher Walken embodying corporate evil like no other and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most absolutely sexy, dangerous, funny and commanding take on Catwoman ever. The film takes place over the holiday season in a Gotham highly reminiscent of bustling New York, all austere wintry edifices and decked out super malls.

3. Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

A double edged sword that works wonders as both Christmas and Halloween film, this is just a classic, iconic festive singalong with the OG beautiful Burton/Selick stop-motion animation and a wonderful host of vocal/singing performances from Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman.

2. Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Another counterintuitive one, this is an icy, sardonic black crime comedy about a mob lawyer (John Cusack), his untrustworthy associate (Billy Bob Thornton), a slinky stripper (Connie Nielsen) and a big city gangster (Randy Quaid). They’re all neck deep in an underworld embezzlement scheme on Christmas Eve, out to kill, deceive, screw over and get rich by the time midnight rolls around. I love this film, it’s a Yuletide noir with healthy doses of deadpan comedy, a mournful rumination on what it means to be a family member around this time of year and how morality plays into a life of crime. Plus positively everyone steals the show including the lovable Oliver Platt as Cusack’s drunken buddy.

1. Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol

The number of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols film adaptations is near infinity but for me this one tops them all. Dazzling motion capture animation gives larger than life vitality to the classic story of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Victorian London. Jim Carrey outdoes himself playing the old dude and *all three* spectres while the cast is filled with beloved performers like Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Fionnula Flanagan, Cary Elwes and the late great Bob Hoskins in multiple roles. Zemeckis’s sure hand with this dynamic style of animation gives the film an impressive aura of sweeping visual movement and immersion, the performances capturing the essence of each actor in various modes while the colour, carols and rousing action make this the best produced version of this story I’ve ever seen, I watch it once a year without fail.

-Nate Hill