There is a fine line between gimmicky and ‘high-concept’. Thankfully though, single shot Uruguayan horror film The Silent House (2010) comes down on the right side of that equation.
The set-up is simple enough. A man and his daughter arrive at an isolated house in a rural area to clean it prior to sale. Initially the pace of the film is measured as it sets up the location, the characters and the atmosphere. This section is very assured, as the creepy tone is set without feeling the need to slap you in the face with over the top haunted house aesthetics. In terms of frights, the film is notable for reinforcing just how bloody freaky things literally going bump in the night can be. The film is moseying along early, but then a few bumps jolt you and certainly frightened me a lot. I generally don’t find horror films too hard to sit through, but this made me squirm more than any flick since The Conjuring (2013). Perhaps inevitably given the structure of the film, it does certainly drag at times. Thankfully though, the film never goes too far along without wrenching you right back into what it is aiming to do. Much of the credit in this regard goes to the lead actress Florencia Colucci who has the bulk of the screen time. She is definitely convincing in conveying the terror of her situation, not to mention her crying and screaming game is on point the whole way through.
Everything about the film, from the title onward, screams classic haunted house flick. Thankfully it’s a bloody good one too, managing to be a homage to the subgenre without feeling derivative at all. Even if on a couple of occasions some elements become a little overworn, such as the use of mirrors. But then again, some of these familiar elements also help bring the film’s best moments. I’m looking at you polaroid camera sequence that is borderline unwatchable it is so terrifying. Perhaps it shouldn’t have strayed too far from the old fashioned norm though, because as the plot shifts away from convention in the second half, some of the intrigue is definitely lost. Not to mention that the film closes with a monumentally crap twist. One of those twists that is not just annoying, but it actually really effects how you feel about the film as a whole. As for the double gimmick of (supposedly) being filmed in one shot and being real time, these add to the film rather than detract from it. If the film is indeed just one shot (I never have the concentration to concentrate hard enough to actually make sure) it is a pretty exceptional effort. Rather than a staid camera that follows the characters around, the camerawork in The Silent House is noticeably bold. It’s not afraid to show off that it is a singe shot, but it never feels gimmicky and the camerawork is handheld but able to be steady in its movements and move in and out of focus when required. There is some great stuff on the sound design side of things as well. It mixes up silence, music and good ol’ fashioned effects to bring both atmosphere and scares
For the most part, The Silent House is an excellent film. One of the few films I find genuinely terrifying, it is also very slick in its design and construction. It is a shame then my final opinion of this sharp homage to haunted house flicks is so tainted by a misfiring twist ending.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Everyone who read my top ten of 2013 list will know that I think Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) is a fantastic although deeply disturbing film. Even though it has already featured on this site in brief, I thought that it was time to expand upon my thoughts on the film with this in-depth review.
Given the film is about the sexual abuse of deaf children in the care of the church, it is no surprising that it is so disturbing. Indeed any film on the subject should be. Many exceptional documentaries will make your blood boil. This one was no different and within two minutes that is how I was feeling. But importantly Gibney never feels the need to resort to cheapness to build this rage inside his viewer. He coaxes it out by simply giving thorough information, from which anyone who sees it could never be anything but pissed off. The fact that the Catholic Church for so long hid behind what were on the on the surface good deeds they were doing, in order to sexually molest young deaf men in their care is such a horrid deceit. Those with the power of the priesthood seemingly had no qualms about using that power in this shameful way. This point is reinforced by Gibney’s choice of experts to speak as well. A former bishop explains how there is a connection between the absurd imposition of celibacy upon Catholic priests and the acting out of abuse. Even more chilling is the fact that many priests who carry out these abuses believe that their inherent goodness or ‘holiness’ outweighs their heinous actins.
Similarly, the basic structures of the Church apparently felt no qualms about covering up the shameful abuses carried out by their supposed brothers in Christ. All these revelations just serve to make the individual instances even more horrifying, if that is even possible. The fact that it is all so systematic, with the covering up of abuse, paying off of victims and absurd attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ offenders through spiritual therapy. If there is a God, that god fucking hates child abuse. It is startling just how far up the chain this all goes. Gibney reveals that former Pope Benedict and the beloved John Paul II were both far from perfect in regards to dealing with paedophilia inside the church. The latter ignored complaints made against one of his most trusted confidants. The film shows the horrors perpetuated by both individuals and systems inside the Catholic Church, but wisely avoids bashing the concept of organised religion wholesale. Don’t get me wrong, there are no punches pulled, but Gibney does not dilute the message of the film by extrapolating the horrors he presents as being symptomatic of a belief in God. He does however attack the systematic covering up of abuses by the Catholic Church and connect that to how the church operates worldwide.
The ‘talking heads’ and infuriating subject matter go a long way to making Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God as great a film as it is. However it is also an auteur piece, another example of why Alex Gibney is if not the best cinema documentarian working today, then very close to the top of that list. Probably his most astute decision with this film is to have four of the deaf adult victims of abuse function as talking heads. They sign their testimony, which allows you to feel the raw emotion and lasting effect that the abuse has brought to their lives. Voiceover is used to translate for those of us who don’t read sign and to complement the nuanced signed testimony of the victims. A lesser director would have opted to have the voiceover the focus, perhaps in tandem with re-enactments, but Gibney knows that his approach will deliver the most powerful statement. Another one of the small yet masterful decisions that Gibney makes is with the film’s structure. It starts out specific, opens out to the systematic nature of things and then comes back to the specifics again. This return to specifics at the end is notable, because it is so important that the story of the four men who open up for the film have their entire story told.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is a chilling film about the evil that people commit in the world. Detailed, informative, clear, insightful and artistic, as well as an utterly bleak watch that is depressing for your view of the human race, this is not a film that is easy to recommend. But it is a film that everyone should see once.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Starting off with that tweet sort of ruins any suspense I may have built regarding my opinion of Friday the 13th Part III (1982). That’s kind of apt really, because the film itself utterly fails to build any suspense as well.
After a really enjoyable second entry, I was excited to check this out, especially given I was under the impression this was a straight sequel to that film. I was mistaken though, because even though it unnecessarily rehashes the final five minutes of the previous film, this is not a direct sequel. I have no issue with a film franchise having films that are more or less individual. But for some reason, this series seems to revel in the fact that there is no continuity, which is a major downfall of this film. The plot is the same as the first two films. Teenagers go hang out by a lake. Teenagers get brutally murdered. The plot is so the same, they have even rehashed characters they killed off earlier in the series – there is another crazy old dude who warns the kids not to go up to the lake. The script is worse than just tired. It is numbingly terrible. None of the skill that is required to build a horror film is contained in it and as a result this is one of the cheapest and most obvious horror flicks I recall enduring. A large swathe of it just regresses into a lot of doors opening mysteriously and the film trying to trick you into thinking Jason is around, but ta-da, yet again it is just some random dude. If the script exhibited any suggestion of being able to build some narrative or conflict, the film would have had some sort of chance.
The starkest deficiency between this series and the Elm Street series of films I have just finished reviewing is that these are utterly incapable of building a character that you care about in the slightest. This lack of character building crucially extends to the creation of the all important ‘final girls’, who all kinda suck. The writing is all kinds of bad and the execution of the script is, if anything, worse. The title tune is uber-80s tripe that would have been better suited to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It sounds like a minor quibble, but the title track for a horror film needs to set the creepyarse tone, Halloween (1978) style, not totally detract from it. The acting is uniformly terrible, even by 80s slasher standards. I am writing this half an hour after I finished the film and I can’t remember one redeemable facet of any of the performances. However, there is still one more aspect of this film to talk about that possibly takes the cake as being worse than all the aforementioned rubbish – the fact that the film was shot for 3D and there are endless, utterly boring shots designed to take advantage of this gimmick. Obviously you could understand the odd axe or knife coming out of the screen. But the characters just keep holding random, moderately pointy household objects up to the screen. You can just see the shocked 1982 audiences right now ‘OH MY GOD THAT YO-YO IS COMING DIRECTLY FOR US’. Obviously the filmmakers were not to know how crappy these shots would look 30 years later. But I can’t let that distract from the fact that these shots not only do look exceptionally crappy, they are also repeated ad nauseam. I feel confident in asserting that not one of them would have looked halfway decent in 3D either.
Friday the 13th Part III is such a mess. I can think of possibly two positive things to say on this – some early sequences have such reasonable old school tension to them and the first scene where Jason rocks his famous hockey mask is almost awesome (but it’s not, so guess that’s not really a positive). The rest of the film is so poorly written and executed that I can’t imagine there being anything here to keep anyone interested.
Verdict: Schooner of Tooheys New
Updated franchise ranking below (no surprises where this one comes in):
Perhaps more than any other genre, it is harder to gauge whether a horror film will be any good based solely on the trailer and marketing material. Having said that, I am pretty keen to check out The Quiet Ones (2014). I really like this trailer. I dig how it is stylised to look old and the concept of setting something supernatural to the backdrop of a scientific place like a university has definite promise. They are really pushing the based on a true story elements of this one as well. If you are interested in that angle, be sure to check out this awesome piece that Ryan from Rhino’s Horror wrote a while back on the supposed true life origins of the film. I have really never understood the whole based on a true story attraction for horror marketing. But in any case, The Quiet Ones definitely looks like a horror film to keep an eye on with its pretty reasonable cast and what appeared to be pretty assured period trimmings, though I am a little concerned it will be a little too polished. What about you guys, keen for this?
Probably for the first time in my life, I am a regular comic reader at the moment. I had long found comics too hard to get into, a niche subculture that I was interested in but that I struggled to find an entry point into. But after discovering a quality local shop nearby and getting into a bunch of ongoing series I am pretty hooked.
But this lack of real history with the form, means that I have no idea if film tie-ins are viewed with the same level of disparagement as they are with film tie-in novels (and a vast majority of tie-in games too). In any case, I grabbed the two issue limited series Captain America: The First Avenger the other day to check out. I am not entirely sure when the series came out, but it does seem a little strange that the series would be released more or less in association the second Captain America film. In any case, it is nice to dip back into the period world of the first Cap film. The two issues feature posters for the film as their covers. The connection to the film is made even plainer by the character design. Wisely, the character designs suggest the actors that play them in the film, without looking distractingly similar. Overall the art is assured, but relatively standard. It is a little old fashioned in a way, which helps to set the period atmosphere, capturing the hyper patriotism of the time and by extension the character of Captain America.
The major issue with this limited series is simply a structural one. There is far too much story to fit into just two issues. And when it is trying hard to do so, that is when the work splutters a fair bit. The plot needs space to breathe, but here there is not even enough space to cram the entire plot in, let alone add breathing space and other flourishes around the fringes. The writing is very wordy to try and get the film’s entire plot across. However, even with all the words, large swathes of development have to be canned because it is being adapted into such a short format. So characters come along with absolutely no introduction and events jump from one to another with large gaps in between. In reality, if you have not seen the film, the comics will be pretty hard to follow as there is just so much left out and not even really hinted at. The deficiencies in the storytelling are not just troublesome from a narrative point of view. It also means that the strength of the early parts of the comic – the war time atmosphere – is significantly diluted too, because none of it really makes it through to the story driven sequences. So much is being crammed in that only the action can be conveyed, nothing deeper.
There is plenty of really good stuff in this tie-in. But quite simply, the series needed to be three or four times longer so there was not a need to skip over such huge amounts of story. By doing that, a vast majority of the series’ issues could have been alleviated and this trip back to WWII would have been a lot more satisfying.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
Next week sees the beginning of the 2014 Spanish Film Festival. The festival will be touring around the country, with screenings at Palace Cinemas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth and Byron Bay. The festival features 30 films, bringing a whole new chapter of exposure to Spanish cinema, one of the strongest national cinemas in film.
Below are five highlights of the festival for you to look out for, in no particular order:
- Living is Easy with Eyes Closed: The opening night film of this year’s festival is the only one I happen to have seen. It cleaned up at the 2014 Goya Awards taking out Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best New Actress amongst many others. The film itself is a really light road-trip, as one man aims to fulfil his dream of meeting John Lennon and picks up a couple of young hitchhikers along the way. It is really life affirming stuff and a film I really loved. Make sure you check it out if you get the chance.
- Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang: I mean really, how can you not want to see a film with that title. Based on Spanish comic book characters, this looks like a rollicking bit of family fun amongst the festivals more serious fare.
- The Longest Distance: A Spain/Venezuela co-production, this film promises a slow paced road movie with plenty of incredible scenery. The film sees a young boy, who has lost his mother, set off on an arduous journey to meet his grandmother for the first time, not knowing that the woman is terminally ill. If the scenery is matched by a quality script, this could be a very special watch.
- The Amazing Catfish: Whilst the festival focuses on films from Spain, it does also include Latin American Spanish language films. This Mexican film with an intriguing title looks like the pick of them to me. Once again dealing with terminal illness and the effect it has on young people close to it, the film has played at a bunch of big festivals worldwide and won the critics award at Toronto in 2013.
- Festival guest Alex Gonzalez: I haven’t seen either of the films Gonzalez stars in at this year’s festival (Scorpion in Love and Combustion), but in my experience getting the chance to hear those involved in films talking about them is pretty much always worth making the effort for. Alex will be doing Q & A sessions following screenings of Scorpion in Love in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. The film also stars Javier Bardem in a drama involving neo-Nazis, boxing and attempted new beginnings.
You can check out the entire program for the festival here.
Thanks to the Spanish Film Festival, I have three double passes to give away for Aussie residents. Please check out the official website here, to see when the festival will be in your city. There are two ways to enter. You can like the post on my facebook page which links to this article. Or you can favourite or retweet the tweet from my twitter account that links to it. Feel free to enter more than once. The competition will be drawn at 5pm on 29 April and tickets will be posted the next day.
After not enjoying the first film, I was not particularly enthused as I popped Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) into my blu-ray player. I have no real issue with bad films. I watch plenty of them and enjoy writing about a lot of them too. I have real problems both watching and writing about boring films though, and Friday the 13th (1980) was certainly that, at least for me.
Thankfully though, this sequel is a definite improvement on the first film, even if it perhaps never reaches the heights of many of its slasher brethren. The setup is essentially the exact same as the first film. Set five years later, a group of camp counsellors again gather for training. Whilst not at Camp Crystal Lake, the new camp is a short distance away, actually on the same lake that Jason jumped out of at the end of the first film, scaring the utter shit out of absolutely everyone. You know the drill, the counsellors start to get knocked off, generally whilst either about to have sex, or having just finished up. Like the first film, though possibly even more so, there is little character development of the counsellors before they meet their doom. I am not really sure why they persist with this approach and utilising a much larger number of characters than they really need to. Especially since on the occasions they actually build up a character, it greatly improves the story. Thankfully though, this time the dialogue and interrelationships between the counsellors is much improved. You can actually buy the connections between them and they are able to convey the lust or love they are feeling a lot better in this film. This is equally down to an improved script and also the fact that the film is generally quite well acted. I really liked the ending to this film. There were some really original moments that actually worked, especially the ‘child psychology’ bits. It was good to see something new. I was also pretty excited to learn that the next film in the series is a straight sequel to this film, because the ending genuinely did leave me wanting more. Turns out I won’t have the same dread of putting part III on as I did with this film.
Oftentimes with sequels to successful low budget films, you find they are rushed out to cash in on the success of the first and there are no improvements in terms of production values. Whilst you can still see that this is a cheap film, there is a definite step up in terms of the production. There is a lot of tight in camerawork used that helps to create a heap of atmosphere. You are always wondering what lies just beyond the edge of the frame, which is really effective. Unfortunately though, the film still relies on cheap ‘jump’ scares, rather than building to the kills through actual narrative, like better horror films do. Perhaps this will change in the series going forward, given that the identity of the killer is really set in stone now and there is not as much need to keep a sense of mystery around that fact. Most of the film takes place in a pretty stock standard camp setting, but there are small amounts of really cool set design in this as well, another improvement on the first film. The grimy, decrepit, homemade vibe of Jason’s shanty style shack in the forest looks great and like a place you would most certainly not want to find yourself. The score continues to riff on Psycho (1960), indeed there are again multiple allusions to Hitch’s film in this one, but overall it is better than the first, helping to set the tone and hitting all of the right beats.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is a marked improvement over the first film and a rare franchise entry that actually leaves you both satisfied and hanging out for the next film. It is still not a particularly scary film at all, but much improved writing and a slightly more committed approach to building a plot made this a far less boring watch than its predecessor.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Just like with the Nightmare on Elm Street films, I will be keeping an updated ranking with links to the earlier reviews:
1. Friday the 13th Part 2
2. Friday the 13th
A new Paul Thomas Anderson film does not get me as excited as most movie buffs. He is one of those directors that just seems to have passed me by. Even though plenty of people rate him as possibly the greatest contemporary director, I have only seen one of his films for some reason. All that being said, I still follow the news when one of this films is coming up and always intend to check it out. Same with Inherent Vice (2014) which is due toward the end of the year.
Check out the poster below for the film. For some reason I really like this design. Much of the space is made up of blue sky which is pretty bold, as is not slapping Joaquin Phoenix’s mug on there. I like the inclusion of the cityscape, which taken in context of the title, suggests some sort of urban noir possibly being on the way. I’m actually not 100% sure if this is an official poster or a fan one, but it doesn’t really matter, because it has certainly piqued my interest in the film. What do you guys think of it?
Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Three fantastic Enemy posters and Captain America: The Winter Soldier character posters.
James Franco is a busy and multi-talented dude. He will soon be starring in Palo Alto (2014), an adaptation of his own collection of short stories directed by Gia Coppola. Films based on short story collections seem to miss the mark a fair bit, but this seems to have a fair bit of promise. I am a fan of Franco and Emma Roberts has impressed me in a couple of things as well. The trailer looks good and it may manage to bring something original to the teen, coming of age film which would be really refreshing. Who knows how it will turn out, but at this stage, I am pretty keen. Thoughts all?