Tag Archives: horror

Indie Gems: Kevin Philip’s Super Dark Times

The title ‘Super Dark Times’ serves as a warning of sorts for the film to follow. It should be wisely taken into consideration, as this is probably the most disturbing film I’ve seen all year. In contrast, it’s also one of the most beautifully made. Bring a comfort blanket or cuddle buddy though, because these aren’t only Dark Times, they’re bleak, grim and tough to absorb without feeling grossly affected after. I like it when films explore themes of both violence and adolescence bourgeoning side by side in small town youth, everyone from Stephen King to David Lynch have been fascinated by these ideas. Violence is an unavoidable step in the learning curve for youngsters and a key element in any individual’s coming of age, no matter what we tell ourselves. First time director Kevin Philips pads those themes well by telling his story in the most realistic, blunt fashion he can, casting kids that genuinely look to be high school age, using sound design and cinematography to create a frighteningly immersive atmosphere and not neutering the stark violence in off-screen gimmicks to soften the blow of a blood-chilling story. Two normal enough high school boys (Charlie Tahan and Owen Campbell, both superbly good) are set on different yet equally dark paths following a brutal accident that scars them both, awakens a dark passenger in one and lays a blanket of dread over their small upstate New York town. That’s all I’ll say in terms of plot, it’s a scary guessing game of dangerous encounters, adolescent discoveries and tragic violence that unfurls like a jet black velvet carpet of doom. Metaphors as colourful as that are just me trying to abstractly impart to you how affecting the visual and auditory mood-scape are, but you’d be better off just watching the thing for yourself. Philips leaves certain areas of the narrative *just* vague enough until one gets the gnawing notion that what is presented to us might not be the full story, a tactic which instills the aftertaste of unease beyond the film’s bloody conclusion. Speaking of conclusions, this has to have the most suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in a while, a breathless, literally razor sharp confrontation that feels earned and urgent because of how invested I was in the characters up until then. The film opens with violence, proceeds through a violent tale and ends with it as well, but as is often the case with films that care to do so, there’s contrast, a certain vitality to the characters and a hope that lives in lingering shots of a dying sunrise or a girlfriend (Elizabeth Cappuccino) gently comforting one of the protagonists. I read another review that called this ‘a simple story, well told’, which I partly agree with. It goes without saying it’s well told, but there’s a complexity to it, an intuitive force guiding the proceedings that one can feel like an undercurrent, and the moods it stirs are anything but simple. One of the best films this year.

-Nate Hill

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Stigmata

Stigmata is one of those thrillers with religious undertones that seems to avoid pesky, eye roll preaching by simply sticking to the horror aspects and providing a solid genre flick, without getting up in our faces with it’s message or feeling lame (see Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate and Peter Hyams End Of Days for other ones that achieve this). This one is religious in the sense that it has to be for it’s plot to move along (just look at the title) but essentially it’s part atmospheric spook-fest and part chase film, both of which it does fairly well. Patricia Arquette, in full damsel in distress mode, plays Frankie, a girl whose last priority in life is religion, but suddenly finds herself afflicted with the stigmata, mysterious self-manifesting crucifixion wounds that show up without warning, ruining bedsheets and couches alike. The Vatican soon gets wind of this and dispatches priest investigator Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to debunk or research her case. Something about her her soon has shattering implications for not just Catholicism but faith as a whole, and suddenly they’re on the run from a nasty villain priest (Jonathan Pryce) whose ideology is seriously cornered by these new revelations. When Pryce plays a bad guy in your film (see Ronin and The Brothers Grimm) you know he’s going to go all out, arch it up and be a grandiose piss-ant of an antagonist, his ‘priest’ here is so vibrantly evil he seems to have walked over from a Dario Argento flick. There’s a more compassionate man of faith too (Rade Serbedzija) who has a better grasp on the new theology, which he lays down in expository patience so the audience has an inkling of what’s at stake. Byrne and Arquette actually have some terrific chemistry and romantic yearnings, but sucks for them with him being a priest and all. You can do far far worse with thrillers like this, it really sets up a hellish urban atmosphere neatly and diligently tells a pretty cool story.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Thomas Jane’s Dark Country

Dark Country actor Thomas Jane’s first venture behind the camera as director, and although the final product is a bit muddy and perplexing, it also creates an atmosphere of impenetrable mental fog and noxious delirium that’s in itself a success, even if the whole thing amounts to a big question mark. Jane has already proved to be a stalwart action hero, charismatic leading man and talented performer (anyone raising their hand to disagree with me gets a copy of Mark Pellington’s I Melt With You hucked across the classroom right at their head). Working off a script from veteran writer Tab Murphy, Jane concocts what can only be described as a Twilight Zone episode on opiates, with a hint of sketchy Midnite Movie added for flavour. Does it work? Yes and no. The story is nearly indecipherable except to someone glued to the screen inches away, kept abreast of every minute plot shift and disorienting, mumbled bit of dialogue. Jane and Lauren German play a couple driving from somewhere to somewhere, who encounter a freaky, whacked out hitchhiker (Chris Browning) somewhere around the Nevada desert. He’s bloodied up something fierce, babbling on about nothing and from the moment he arrives, their turns turns dour. It’s anyone’s guess what goes on from there… a dead body they must contend with, a suspicious state trooper (nice Ron Perlman cameo) on their tail, flashbacks to a weird encounter at a desolate roadside diner, ever creeping fog that seems to have followed Jane over from Stephen King’s The Mist to wreak more havoc, and so it goes. Plot is of little importance to him as a director though, and instead he seems more intent on clouding up the viewer’s perception of events until it’s more like a shadowy fever dream full of dead ends and few answers. An atmosphere piece with a logic tank that’s run dry, but succeeds in whipping up a neat nightmarish road trip through confusion and paranoia, if not much else.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Necessary Evil

There’s always those B Movies that seemed to be sewn together out of bits of other scripts and produced solely so SyFy or Space has something, anything to fill up their 3am Saturday time slot. It’s like production team grabbed discarded narratives from all kinds of genre flicks, shoved them in a magic bullet, but purée and served up whatever the result is to the distributor. Now, this can often be a terrible idea resulting in boring mish-mash horror flicks that make little sense, or they can oddly kind of work in their own absurd way. Necessary Evil… kind of works, kind of doesn’t, there’s definitely something splattered on the canvas with it’s narrative, what it is though, I’m not even sure the filmmakers had an idea. It’s part Lovecraftian horror, part psychological something, part social satire and all schlock, but these themes bleed into each other until even the most attentive viewer will have not much of a clue what they’re watching. Best I can describe it: a super sinister doctor named Fibrian (Lance Henriksen) runs a shadowy psychiatric ward. There’s all kinds of rumours about illegal testing, dodgy pharmaceuticals, mass mind control and occult ties, none of which is ever made clear or disproved. However, when you have Lance playing your asylum director, you can almost be sure the place is up to something it shouldn’t be, he just has that cavalier maliciousness that he always switches on for these types of parts. A police detective and a reporter are onto him, and do theor best to infiltrate the facility, but his powers have already spread to the city outside, causing people to act strange and… well, a bunch of other weird shit. Danny Trejo has an amusingly hostile extended cameo as some vague operative working for Fibrian, and yada yada. It earns points for sheer WTF-ness though, it’s like every day on set they picked one crew member to add the craziest thing they could think of to the script and just ran with that (which would be a cool free association method of improvisational filmmaking, now that I think about it. They outdo themselves in a hilarious, out of left field cliffhanger ending that gets pretty cosmic and out there, adding a straight up supernatural element that cements the demented vibe they’ve strived for with the whole thing. A true oddball.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Vault

I miss films like The Vault, and it’s refreshing to see there’s still artists out there who care enough to make them. You see, in today’s hyper meta, incredibly self aware age of remakes, redos, reimagining and reboots, everything has to be bigger, better, have cutthroat innovation and just be… more. Neglect often rises in terms of making good old, straight up, no bullshit genre flicks, the kind we fell in love with in the first place, the kind which without, we’d have none of the throwbacks of our era. I suppose you could in fact call this one a throwback because these days the lines of definition are impossibly blurred, but there’s just something so earnest, endearing and straightforward to it’s formula that reads as effortless and totally in it’s groove. Picture this: bank robbers unwittingly siege a branch that turns out to be haunted. It’s obviously more complicated, but come on man.. a haunted bank! The concept alone gets one giddy. During a hectic warehouse fire that conveniently gridlocks a whole city block, a roughneck crew of outlaws take hostages, led by sisters Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning, who have bad blood for each other right out of the gate. Outside, a wearily sarcastic Detective (Clifton Collins Jr) tries to keep the peace, clueless of the crime in progress a few doors down. Inside the bank, all hell breaks loose, literally and figuratively, as the perps slowly discover that beneath the building’s modern veneer, deep in the old abandoned vault, something evil has awoken. It’s a neat premise, and both the crime and horror aspects are handled well enough to keep one glued to the screen. Manning is an actress I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve always enjoyed her scrappy tomboy style, and she’s a hyperactive gong show here. Eastwood has quietly been putting out great work for some time now (check out her brief but affecting cameo in Twin Peaks), she does the tough but sexy turn really nicely. Q’orianka Kilcher has been all across the board since she came onto the scene playing Pocahontas in The New World, showing up in the least expected places, like a cool bank teller role here. James Franco has a solid supporting turn as the bank’s strange assistant manager as well. Much of the film is a hyper kinetic, pulsating thrill ride with stranglehold pacing, eventual pauses coming for the schlocky elements to breathe and the scare tactics to effectively come forth, a great mixture. This one is simplicity itself in terms of genre, with no cheeky pretence or smirking, meta undercurrent, just a good old school horror hybrid, and a damn enjoyable one too.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Hellions

It’s always frustrating when a horror flick ‘almost’ gets there, like it has a handful of real cool qualities that just sort of get buried by a heap of shitty cliches and and a middle section that drags like a chain. Hellions is such a film, a low budget, atmospheric shocker that I feel would have been better suited to a twenty minute short film format that the usual ninety minute time slot that feature horrors sit in. There’s just not enough of what’s there to go around and a lot of it ends up feeling thin and sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread (seewhatididthere). The film focuses on a teenager (Chloe Rose) who is forced to fight through a Halloween night from hell when something takes over the town, something accompanied by a gauzy, unsettling mauve colour filter and an impressive original score filled with eerie hooting and wailing. Atmosphere is key here, there’s loads of it and they’ve done a fantastic job with it, to their credit. It’s just everything else that goes off the rails or doesn’t seem to fit: Chloe is hunted by weird little munchkins in Halloween costumes, there’s hellish intonations of a pregnancy gone wrong tied into the town’s plight, and a bunch of such mumbo jumbo, with a noisy climax that is only discernible as excessive commotion. Too much is too much, a pearl of wisdom these filmmakers could have heeded better. Grizzled veteran Robert Patrick helps her shoot her way out of the situation as the local Sheriff, a film always gets brownie points for simply having him there. It’s sad because what does work here, really works. The score is truly bone chilling, and the visual palette once dark forces show up is dreamy, unsettling and very creative. The opening shot of future Chloe walking up to the window of a maternity ward in a quiet panic, music on cue, is something incredible, and I wish the whole film could have followed suit. There just needed to be less running about, less chirping demonic midgets, less nonsensical hallucinatory gore, for as everyone knows, less is often more.

-Nate Hill

The Collector

The Collector is a booby trap rigged horror flick that not only gives Saw a run for it’s money, but outdoes it in the atmosphere department. This is one seriously spooky film, made so by it’s eerie, claustrophobia ridden single-location setting, elaborate and maximum pain inflicting terror traps and burnished, browned out cinematography that gives it it’s own aesthetic. In a creaky old heritage mansion, a cat burglar leads his team from room to room, robbing the place to pay back a hefty debt owing to his ex-wife. Only problem is, they’re not alone in there. Stalking through the shadows is a silent, mask wearing phantom with a fucked up bag of tricks and a disconcerting leather face mask. Each new hallway or edifice finds them falling into one of his gory, well staged snares, from razor wire to full on bear traps and every gnarly device in between. It’s never really clear who he is or why he’s there save for a minuscule expository scene that you’ll miss if you blink, but it’s scarier that way in most cases, he could be robbing the place too for all they know and he’s just getting territorial. The film is a shadow laced game of spider and fly, as each individual finally realizes they’re no match for this fiend. Terrifically well made horror outing, but avoid the sequel (unimaginably called The Collection), as it takes everything that works so well here and shines a silly, noisy spotlight on it. This one will work you over and spit you out a clammy, nervous mess after it’s 90 minute stranglehold has had it’s way with you.

-Nate Hill