REVIEW – Aniara (Arrow Films, 2019)

EIFF 2019

A luxurious 3 week cruise through the galaxy soon becomes a hellish voyage into an empty universe. The film is broken down into chapters, each focusing on the main character ‘MR’s ability to react and overcome difficult situations and try to find optimism. Aniara certainly punches above its budget limitations with its stunning set designs and CGI visuals, but much like its story it becomes ‘lost in space’ very quickly. There are moments where the film elevates itself with shocking twists but these are quickly dispelled by long periods of blandness. The breathtaking set designs never get tiring on the eye, neither does its pulsating soundtrack and ambient atmosphere but you never sense that the characters are dealing with the the ‘real’ threat of ‘certain death’. It just feels like many of the characters are just going through the motions. The best moments in the film are when it aims for the shock factor (notably the ‘Cult’ lesbian orgy which goes full throttle and is jaw dropping). There were many times where film looked close to turning a corner and moving towards greatness but unfortunately it kept falling backwards. A lack of precision in the screenplay set Aniara off on a misguided path which is a shame as it wasn’t a million miles away from reaching its full potential.

3 / 5

#Aniara #EdinburghInternationalFilmFestival2019

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REVIEW – The Curse of La Llorona (Warner Bros)

The next spin off in the ever expanding Conjuring Universe is another dark tale drenched in modern horror. In 1673, A woman in Mexico drowns her two children as an act of revenge after she finds out her husband is having an affair with a younger woman, this forms the basis of an urban legend as she returns after death looking for more children. 300 years later, a young family in Los Angeles are haunted by the ‘weeping woman’ after Anna Garcia (Linda Cardellini) accidently awakens the evil spirit and sets it free.

The Curse of La Llorona is intense from the offset and continually tries to catch you off guard with its mechanical jump scare set pieces. For the most part, the set pieces are constructed impressively but the depth of the story is hindered by the ruthless intent to scare you.

If you remember the infamous 6 second banned online viral ad from last year for The Nun, you’ll know what to expect here. There are atleast 10 jump scares throughout the movie following the old formula of silence followed by loud noises. The ‘cattle prod’ approach as it is referred to by many critics. This approach feels more and more dated as the film progresses as you are waiting for the next jump scare rather than the next plot development. The ‘weeping woman’ is a constant threat in the house anyway and doesn’t need as many jump scares to scare you. It just feels cheap to throw these old tricks at you over and over when they already have you at the edge of your seat.

The atmosphere is more aligned to Annabelle than The Conjuring or The Nun, hence the in-film reference. Some of the most memorable parts of the film are when it actually slows down, notably the hair massage scene in the bath, this is when the film really begins to shine.

There are times where The Curse of La Llorona really comes into its own and takes small steps away from The Conjuring Universe. However, it always treads back to the ‘norm’ which is a real shame. As a fan of the franchise, there is alot to enjoy here in The Curse of La Llorona but it just feels like a marathon of jump scares at times.

Down to its roots, the movie has an adequate storyline which is simple enough to follow but is still intreaging. The story does become very generic when the medium is involved but there is plenty of humour to mix it up. There are some obvious nods to The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror but the film takes most of its influence from its own franchise which is its downfall as it feels ‘generic’ as a result. This movie felt strangled and restricted by its own franchise as it lacked the courage to go it’s own way and this is becoming a recurring theme.

The Curse of La Llorona is happy to sit in the shadows of The Conjuring Universe, it deserves its place there but could have been the film to take the franchise in a new direction.

Score: ☆☆☆

Nasties Nostalgia #1 – Faces Of Death (Series)

There are some horror films which are so real they disturb you for years. Faces of Death, which had it’s 40th anniversary recently, leaves you with memories you will never erase.

Remember the old Vipco Scream Collection releases which had plain black front covers and a small synopsis on the back but no images?

Well, Faces of Death movies were also released with black box art but contained an image of a skull on the front. Faces of Death stood out on shelves and when picked up you felt like you were holding something illegal due to its reputation. The films bragged on their marketing material that they’d been banned in 46 countries; to them they saw that as an achievement.

I discovered Faces of Death while I was at High School many moons again and it left its mark on me forever. These were the films the media and government wanted destroyed and taken away from us. Faces of Death provided something different for a niche market that wanted something more extreme; it was exactly what I’d been waiting for.

The truth of the matter is, beyond all the controversy and the filmmakers intention to cause offense; Faces of Death movies were groundbreaking in the horror genre and were bloody well made.

These ‘found footage’ clips served as an anthology of blood, guts and great special effects. Showing a mixture of horrific deaths which could happen in real life alongside some exaggerated ‘ideas’ which stretch the powers of imagination to its limits but still shock you.

Faces of Death fooled viewers into thinking they were watching real recorded death scenes, when in fact they were viewing masterfully choreographed set pieces with excellent special effects. You could argue, Faces of Death worked the same way as a magician in that respect. If it made you look away or squirm, it had beaten you.

The uproar among society at the time was due to lack of understanding of what the films were trying to achieve. The reality is, you would never find Real Death Compilations in your local HMV so this was actually no worse than any other horror of that time period. The gore was full-on but never enough to put you off your dinner.

People can sit through watching the news on TV seeing real death scenes in war torn countries but cannot stomach watching a mondo horror movie which immitates it. That is the biggest contradiction of all.

Faces of Death ran from 1978 to 1996 with 4 releases plus a further 2 compilations and a Making of documentary. If it had been released now, people would have been more mentally prepared for it since we’ve been served a ton of brutal exploitation & ‘torture porn’ movies since then.

You might find it hard to sit through Faces of Death, but it is worth your patience as you will definately never forget it. It’s 2019, you’ve waited long enough to give it a try. Challenge yourself, I dare you…

GAME REVIEW – World War Z (2019, PS4)

Some games fly under the radar, we’ve lost count of the number of zombie themed releases in recent years on current gen consoles. Similarly, movie tie-in games normally always fail to deliver. Well, World War Z beats the mould and delivers a pulsating third person squad-based shooter which is on a par with the great (and much missed) Left 4 Dead series.

World War Z is the game we have all been waiting for. Whether you play online or offline co-op, you will be part of a squad of 4 taking on hordes of zombies in beautiful environments set in New York, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tokyo.

The game runs smooth with no slowdown or frame rate issues despite there being hundreds of zombies on screen. The sheer scale of the level design is mind blowing. Graphically, the game is consistently stunning during all the on-screen mayhem.

There are similarities to Left 4 Dead in terms of the zombie types but it never rips off its influences. World War Z has an impressive progression system built into its class and weapon customisation which gives you the freedom to build your characters abilities and arsenals the way you wish. Add to this, a plethora of fun multiplayer modes; you won’t want to turn it off!

On the downside, there is limited content available at the moment upon initial release, with only 11 playable levels in co-op. However, there is massive scope for DLC which will ensure fans continue to sink their hours into it. New missions, characters and zombie types will keep fans occupied for a long time to come.

World War Z is addictive. There is no diminishing returns from repeat gameplay. The more you play, the more you will enjoy it.

There is always a worry that a movie franchise tie-in will fail but this game blows the movie to smithereens.

With Days Gone just around the corner, World War Z is already shifting units rapidly and is here for the long run. Survival is on the cards.

Score: ☆☆☆☆☆

GAME REVIEW – The Forest (2018)

For years I’ve been wanting a cannibal survival game based in a dense Jungle. Well, now I’ve found one that I need to make you all aware of…

Like most jungle Cannibal movies, the game starts with an unexpected planecrash which leaves you bang in the middle of a dangerous jungle with nothing but your wit to help you survive. Pulling in influences from Cannibal Holocaust & Cannibal Ferox, this is any fanboys dream to play a game as intense and realistic as this…yet, with the creative freedom build and explore!

Imagine Minecraft as a survival horror game with cannibals and mutants wanting you dead.

If you don’t drink enough water, you die of dehydation. If you don’t eat enough food, you die of starvation. If you don’t clean blood off your skin, you die of infection. All these factors are added to the constant and frightening threat of being stalked and attacked by cannibals who want to eat you…

The tribes are intelligent and strategize their attacks. They won’t always run straight at you, sometimes they will retreat or come back later in larger numbers. The AI is so unpredictable (in a good way), there is no repetition in battle and you never quite know what to expect when it all kicks off.

You have to manage your resources, build shelter and fire, cook your food, heat up river water to remove germs, set up traps to catch live prey and kill threats. It may all seem overwhelming at first, but the depths in the detail that this game has gone to in order to stack the odds against you makes it all the more exciting.

Everything you find and kill can be crafted. Lizard skin for armour, bones for gates, skulls for trophies to scare off trespassers, you can even cut off limbs from the tribe you kill and endulge in cannibalism yourself if you are short on food supplies…

It’s so easy to get lost in the moment, cutting down trees and collecting sticks and rocks to build tall structures, then suddenly being ambushed out of nowhere. This is one of the finest survival horror games I’ve played in a very long time as you need to stay focused to avoid death.

There is so much you can do in this game and I’ve barely scratched the surface. You need to play it for yourself.

The Forest is available on PC & PS4.

Score: ☆☆☆☆☆

Shaun of the Dead: 15 Years Later

Shaun of the Dead was released in 2004, the same year as the Dawn of the Dead remake. It was a great year for zombie movies, for once zombie movies were in the spot light and everyone wanted to see them…

Shaun of the Dead was ground-breaking, not just for it’s comedy but the fact it had a whole nation interested in zombie films when it came out. The hype was sky high and everyone was excited from all walks of life. Shaun of the Dead got people talking about Dawn of the Dead (1978) and made people want to watch it. There are no doubt thousands if not millions of people who didnt know about Dawn of the Dead until Shaun of the Dead was released in cinemas. It opened up peoples eyes.

George A Romero loved Shaun of the Dead and saw it as a perfect tribute, resulting in Simon Pegg & Nick Frost being given cameos in Land of the Dead.

You could argue that Shaun of the Dead sparked new interest in zombie movies to a new market, and was partly responsible for Call of Duty pushing zombie modes one their games. Many casual horror fans became engrossed by zombie as a result.

The nation went zombie crazy, even more than when 28 Days Later was released. There was no demographic not interested in the film.

I know people who hated horror films but despite Shaun of the Dead being a tongue in cheek comedy it converted them.

While I’ll always favour Hot Fuzz as the best in the Cornetto trilogy, Shaun of the Dead deserves its legacy.

REVIEW: Pet Sematary (Paramount, 2019)

30 years after the original Pet Sematary was released, we now have a remake and things are darker than ever before. The original has been buried, the remake has risen from the dead and it is more sinister and evil. Sometimes dead is better?

This re-visioning of Pet Sematary stays true to the original but takes the horror to a new level and amps up the scare factor. While the original starts off upbeat and then turns on its head when Gage is tragically killed by a speeding truck, the remake is ‘dark’ from the get-go. The atmosphere is one of tension and unease from early on and the first jump scare sets the tone for everything to follow. This is a dark movie, lighting is dim in nearly every scene and you anticipate bad things will happen at every moment. This is a nice change from the original as the film puts you on edge all the way through and is ‘bleak’.

The remake doesn’t entirely mimic the original’s plot, there are a few welcome tweaks to freshen things up. The small changes to the plot don’t stray too far from the source material but are a nice spin on what we already know. There is a slight shift in focus in terms of characterisation too; Church the cat is alot more prominent in the remake than in the original which is a welcome change. The film tries to expand on the importance of local tradition and the back story of the burial ground which helps to add more depth to the plot too.

The main issue for me lies with the choice of lead, unfortunately Jason Clarke who takes on the role of the father Louis lacks the variety of emotions to portray the character effectively. This may be partially down to the directors vision but his performance looks flat on screen. It’s a one-dimensional performance which prevents any empathy building up towards him. This is a real shame as the rest of the cast really shine, especially John Lithgow who puts in a stunning performance as Jud which is as good as the original.

As you’d expect with a modern remake, it’s crammed full of jump scares but this is to be expected and for the most part it works really well. Pet Sematary looks fantastic in terms of locations and while the colour palette is ‘bland’ it is consistent and gives the film a ‘menacing’ look.

Pet Sematary is a strong remake which pays tribute to the original source material but brings something new to the table aswel. The film is unrelentless in its delivery of scares and should please old and new fans alike.

Score: ☆☆☆☆

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Lords of Chaos (Arrow Films, 2019)

The rise of Norwegian Black Metal in the 1990’s has always fascinated me. There have been so many myths thrown around regarding what actually happened with Mayhem and Burzum, Lords of Chaos is a brutal depiction of the crazy events which happened; made up of truth and lies.

A young and determined Euronymous (Rory Culkin) tries to create an exciting Black Metal scene in Oslo but ends up building a dangerous cult (The Black Circle) and inner rivalries result in disastrous consequences.

Despite it’s humour filled trailer, Lords of Chaos is a bleak and hard hitting story about two friends who become enemies and want to kill each other and it all comes to blows. There are so many disturbing elements to what happened to Euronymous and his band mates in Mayhem covered in this film. Suicide, church burning, homophobia, murder, racism… it’s all prevalent in this film (and more!) and there is certainly nothing watered down. The movie is based on a true story which shocked the world. Despite some elements being exaggerated or falsified, there is certainly more truth than fiction on screen and the film has a ‘hard edge’ which will shock most people.

Lords of Chaos is an exciting and frightening portrayal of the tragedies which took place in a scene of overly competitive and egotisticical young men trying to ‘out do’ each other. The young cast provides a near accurate portrayal of the wide array of personalities within Mayhem but it has its noticeable flaws. There is a heavy focus on Euronymous being portrayed as ‘soft’ and ‘weak’, while Varg is a ‘macho bully’ which I felt gave an uneven and inaccurate portrayal at times. Sure, Varg is not a nice person but Euronymous was no saint either.

Lords of Chaos hits the mark and shows the all of the brutality with nothing left to the imagination. You won’t find all of the truth in this film, there are alot of lies, but it is the closest you will get to seeing what ‘might’ have happened.

Score: ☆☆☆☆

 

 

REVIEW: Us (Universal, 2019)

Jordan Peele’s directorial follow-up to Get Out (2017) throws out more questions than answers but leaves you wanting more. Us serves up a mind-bending exploration of race, class and self worth. Peele manages to open our minds once more to question the principles of mankind. The title ‘Us’ smartly acts as both an abbreviation of ‘United States’ aswel as a representation of all of ‘us’. Everyone has a good and bad side, a ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ state if you will.

Us follows a family looking to escape the pressures of life but fate finds them running from themselves (well, clones of themselves). The family have to fight for their lifes as they are stalked and tortured by the ‘red coats’ who want them dead. There is a dark layer of uncertainty around what is happening and why the ‘red coats’ want the family dead, this results in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The family want to know what is going on as much as they want to save their skin.

Us isn’t all doom and gloom, it does have a lighter side meaning you will laugh as much as you jump (if not more). I find it amazing how Peele managed to throw in so many comedic moments in amongst pure horror without losing any of the momentum. This is a thriller and it definately provides thrills.

While the acting is consistent and flawless, the biggest strength in the movie is the intelligent use of ‘music’ to build up tension and set pieces. The soundtrack and score is used to set up situations in the film and provides a refreshing approach for progression of mood and tension through sound. This is almost A Quiet Place in reverse in a way.

Despite all its wonderful ideas and ambition, Us does occasionally slide off the tracks. The movie does feel too long at times, the inclusion of a 2nd family felt unnecessary as it would have been more beneficial to focus on the main characters survival. The 2nd family add no value to the story as they are not featured enough for you to build up any empathy for them. Another issue was the ending itself, it felt disjointed and tedious due to its ‘push’ for the penultimate twist. The film had already won me over long before the ending scene so it was trying too hard in tje final moments. Less is more, however these issues didn’t ruin the experience if watching the film.

Us is a modern classic which will no doubt stem many clones but will stand out as a piece of innovative filmmaking which will keep you thinking long after the credits.

Score: ☆☆☆☆☆

 

 

 

Matriarch – Lowest Budget UK Film To Do A Theatrical Run at Cineworld?

Last year while judging entries for Glasgow Horror Fest, Popcorn Horror made me aware of a low budget indie film shot in rural Scotland. Instantly, my patriotism took over me and I dived right into watching the screener and writing up my review. That film was Matriarch, the directorial debut of long-time actor Scott Vickers. I was blown away by how powerful it was and how much it punched above its budget. The film had all the qualities of a large budget production but with a lot more substance and heart.

For years, I’ve always argued that indie films deserve a place in mainstream cinema. I could count the number of indie films which have had a theatrical run in recent years in one hand. Unfortunately, commercial cinemas have been an exclusive home to big budget blockbusters and known faces leaving indie films on the sidelines. The tide is beginning to turn and those doors that were once closed are slowly opening up to independent filmmakers.

Matriarch, made on a budget of only £40,000, went on to earn a 2-week theatrical run at Glasgow’s largest Cineworld on Renfrew Street and was positively received by audiences. We’ve all seen the likes of Prevenge ($104,000), The Void ($82,500) and the mighty Blair Witch Project ($60,000) grace our screens but it is a rarity to see a UK indie film on a 5 digit budget share the limelight. Matriarch was a self-funded movie taking on the big boys at Cineworld (namely Slaughterhouse Rulez, $5m budget) and knocking it out of the park. This was not only a landmark for the film itself but also the indie community as a whole.

Matriarch went on to sign a distribution deal with Lionsgate in the US but I feel the UK as a whole needs to take notice of this film and its remarkable achievements. It’s not often that a UK indie film can stand toe to toe with big budget giants and hold its own. Have a think about this, how amazing would it be if people stopped talking about how excited they are about the latest Avengers film and started talking about the latest low budget indie film?

In the land of movies, exposure is everything and indie films can rise to great new heights if given a chance. Matriarch is a breakthrough and could inspire other UK indie filmmakers to have a go at breaking into the commercial market.

This made me wonder, could Matriarch be the lowest budget film ever to receive a theatrical run in a commercial cinema?

References:

Matriarch Review – https://popcornhorror.com/neon-frights-reviews-matriarch-ahead-glasgow-horror-fest-premiere/

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3mCX8_Zy_k&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3DTezdY9KypzVqSqWNgVdWOiwJcqDE318Z1YXfq5NA_hSi_eBKxpsJVO8