Thursday, March 27, 2014

Movie Review: Barracuda (1978)

Given the title of today's movie and the year of its release, you can probably make some safe assumptions about it right off the bat. Yes, it's another one of those movies that was made after Jaws became the coolest thing since shelled pistachios. No, it's not nearly as good as Jaws. Like, not even close to nearly. There's a subtitle to the movie called "The Lucifer Project" but you don't find out what that means until the end, and by then you don't care enough to think about the fact that the name makes no sense for what the project actually is.

In the small town of Palm Cove, there is a mysterious menace stalking both the water and the land. Several people and fish have turned up dead lately, and the people in the town have been acting strangely - lashing out at each other for no reason. A marine biologist thinks it has to do with a nearby chemical company polluting the water, so he and the town sheriff work together to expose the truth.

So the worst thing about Barracuda is that the promise of any actual barracuda action is mostly just a ruse to get you to watch the movie in the first place. Sure, there are some underwater barracuda attacks on a few divers and a couple of severed limbs and heads, but believe me, none of it is anything worth getting excited over. The attack scenes are no better than the stuff we were given in the original Piranha, with a lot of fast close-ups where you can barely tell what is happening. Some cloudy red water and spooky music, and the scene is over. Bo-ring.

Only somewhat less boring is the cast of characters we get to follow through this dull ride. Heading up the pack is the town sheriff Ben Williams and the marine biologist Mike. The former actually seems like a cool dude who believes things easily and is much smarter than some of the other people in his town. The latter, Mike, is a cocky young guy whom I didn't like at all even though the movie tried to make me think I should. I just didn't dig his attitude or the way he treated the sheriff's daughter, with that kind of aloof manner. The fat deputy Lester is the comic relief of the movie and his role consisted mostly of him sleeping in the sheriff's office and having weird lines like asking what the word "aural" meant. So strangely, the characters were interesting enough distract me from the fact that they completely bullshitted me on the barracuda angle.

You see, after a while the barracudas are all but forgotten and the last third of the movie plays out like some weird evil government chase thriller. I was actually kind of interested in this part of the movie because in earlier scenes, there were some random, seemingly out-of-place instances involving other townspeople that I really needed to be explained to me. In one scene, the camera focuses on two people arguing on the street in the background. Later, it's a small fender bender that sends one guy over the edge. A spilled drink in a diner makes another guy go ballistic on a waitress. Then while Mike is using the town doctor's lab to do some research on the barracudas, he starts to become suspicious that the doctor might know more than he is letting on. This is why the movie is not so much like some of the other Jaws rip-offs. It uses the Jaws angle to get people interested, but it actually tries to do something different for itself.

Though the story they come up with is not horrible, it's also really lame. The government is making the doctor do some stupid experiment on Palm Cove where they put chemicals in the water to give them low blood sugar which makes them violent. And the government wants to make people more violent so they'll be more prepared and willing to go to war. WHUH? Yeah, that's the gist. The barracudas acting all crazy and eating people is just a side affect of those same chemicals being dumped in the water.

Ugh, that means that I have been double-duped by this movie and I don't like it. Barracuda has got its very few moments here and there but for the most part it is pretty forgettable.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review: We Are What We Are (2013)

Just three years after the original Mexican film We Are What We Are was released, we already have an American remake. I don't mean that in a haughty, OMG-all-remakes-suck way either (because they don't). I'm really just surprised that it was remade at all because as far as I can tell, the 2010 version didn't get all that much buzz in the horror world. Maybe you shouldn't believe me when I say that because I'm not really that in tune with the horror world, truth be told. Anywho, I found the original and reviewed it here. To sum up, I appreciated the movie's aesthetic but overall found it to not be as exciting as the premise promised. This 2013 remake, however, is not that at all. I guess someone else found the same potential in this gruesome tale that I did and decided to work on it.

During a terrible rainstorm in their small town, the matriarch of the quiet Parker family suddenly dies. The grief-stricken family is now forced to deal with just what that means for them as their father forces the two daughters, Iris and Rose, to continue on with the family's traditions in place of their mother. And as the flooding of the town starts to wash up things long though buried, a local doctor gets suspicious of the Parkers, and what they might have to do with several missing people in the area.

To be honest, cannibals are still boring here. The movie is still somewhat tedious, more like a drama than a horror film, and a bit of a slow burn but there are other aspects at play that make it superior to the original. The only thing I will complain about is that I was not particularly fond of the historical reason given for why the members of the family were cannibals. Even after it was explained, it still doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for really why they would have continued the "tradition" for so long, especially considering what we find out it does to the family physically. They always talk about God, but it is really Him they are worshipping or their ancestors and what they created? Still a little confused on this part.

The two things that play in the movie's favor is the acting and the story (other than the confusing part). The story is improved upon mostly because of the addition of the doctor with a personal connection to the Parkers' actions. They only partake in the cannibalism once a year on Lambs Day so while they have obviously managed to elude capture, there are a lot of open missing persons cases around them, including the daughter of Doctor Burrow, played by Michael Parks. That side plot brought a wonderful human element to the story that the original was missingAnother interesting tidbit is just how the doctor found out about the cannibalism - the mother died of some rare disease (that is actually real) that is caused by eating human flesh. The switching of the genders of the family members was also a wonderful idea because it brought up so many other issues like the roles of women in religion, and a father ruling a family with fear and the children looking for a maternal substitute.

The acting is pretty superb especially by the girls playing Iris and Rose, Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner. Both girls are able to carry the look of children with a very serious and heavy weight on their shoulders, almost as if they are war-torn. While watching the film, I was almost begging them to smile just once because that constant shell-shock face they give was really depressing me. Michael Parks was another favorite as the doctor and his scene where he confronts the father was one of the best and the most suspenseful. Bill Sage plays Frank the father, and is equally good at portraying true sorrow and inflicting fear and obedience from his children. It was also very cool to see Kelly McGillis in a smallish role here as the Parkers' neighbor who keeps a constant watchful eye on the family.

There seems to be a little more blood in this remake than I remember from the original, but still not as much as you would expect. And for the most part, I was still a little disappointed in the regard that though We Are What We Are is still a dark and disturbing story, it's not as ballsy as it could be. But then I got to the last scene. Oh my gravy, that last scene. I suddenly felt very bad for all my misgivings and was praising this movie to the highest mountain. I don't want to talk about it specifically because it would be a terrible spoiler, but trust me, it's worth waiting for. Iris and Rose are so apprehensive and fearful of their father and what he makes them do all throughout the movie, yet they never really present themselves as actually being able to stop him and all the cannibal madness. I was wrong. These chicks are fucking hardcore.

Honestly though, what I saw more than anything was a tale about family, and what a family can survive and whether or not it can stay together. There are many examples of the loss of certain family members in We Are What We Are and how it affects the rest of the family. Of course, the mother dying deeply upsets everyone, but Frank is the one seen as the most emotionally affected by it, driven to uncontrollable crying and barely being able to move sometimes. Little daughter Rose, now without a mother, is devastated at the thought of losing her older sister Iris to a boy and being left in the family alone. Burrow lost his daughter years ago yet you can see on his face that it has never been forgotten. The Parkers have a secret and a way of life that keeps them bonded, but how long will that ruse work and how quick can a family be torn apart? We Are What We Are explores all this and more.

Whether you've seen the Mexican version or not, We Are What We Are should be on your watchlist. It has masterful direction and acting, and a story that appeals to both regular film lovers and horror lovers alike. And here's an interesting tidbit - the mother is played by Kassie DePaiva, whom I now know also played Bobbie Jo in Evil Dead II. Nice!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Short and Sweet: "Don't Steal from the Devil" by Sergio Pereira

I'm trying my best to get through all of the books and short stories that have been sent to me by authors, ones that I have had just waiting on my desktop for... well, for a really long time. So today we have the short story "Don't Steal from the Devil" by Sergio Pereira. It's a very cool story about two siblings and their sick mother who get the upper hand on a pair of thieves in a way that you won't expect.

Cover design by Wesley Smuts

The story takes a very different turn from other horror stories I've been reading lately and I loved watching it unfold. There's a little bit of intrigue sprinkled in right from the beginning when the brother and sister, Peter and Jess, are worried about their mother and her strange illness that they can't diagnose. Plus, Jess is hearing ghost-like noises in the house at night, and there is also some backstory about their father leaving them. Several seemingly unrelated things come together in a gleefully evil way when two intruders tie up Peter and Jess and try to get into the safe in the parents' bedroom. Pereira gives just enough background information at the beginning of the story so that readers know what is going on and then he jumps right into the action. He never lets it up, and the story reads at such a fast pace that I think I read all of it in about five minutes.

If you take into account the title of the story and the mother's strange illness, maybe you can see where the story is going. I liked that Pereira used this device in a more cheeky way, though, to reveal the truth about how the intruders got into the house and just what they are doing there. The descriptions he gives are gruesome enough to give horror fans what they want, yet they don't get overused and don't take away from the real reason for the story. The corruption by evil is what the devil does best, you know, and though I really enjoyed how Pereira ended the story, I would have loved to see the ultimate manifestation of that evil as perpetrated by the children and see how it affected them.

My only small complaint would be that some of the dialogue sounds unnatural. It sounds like the writing of someone whose first language is not English and so the colloquial sound is off. His characters say "do not" and "you are" and "I must go" - when most people use contractions when they speak, and I can't remember the last time I said that I "must" do something. If this part were fixed, then the story would be much more believable and not so distracting.

Otherwise, high marks for this intriguing little story! I hope Pereira keeps it up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Movie Review: Bad Milo! (2013)

A movie with a premise like the one in Bad Milo should not be this good. It really shouldn't. But, as a lover of all things horror (even the really, really weird) and as a bored chick looking for something funny to watch the other day, I figured I had to at least give Bad Milo a chance. Hey, if a movie is stupid you can always turn it off, right? There was never a second where I wanted to turn off Bad Milo, though. The movie definitely uses the strangest metaphor I've ever seen for the problems a man is having in his life, but dang if they didn't deal with it in a way that made me totally love it.

It's a stressful life for poor Duncan, who has to deal with growing pressures at work and at home. Mixed with some pretty nasty gastrointestinal problems, and Duncan's stress soon manifests itself as an actual creature that lives in his bowels and pops out occasionally to kill all of the people that are causing Duncan problems. With the aid of a very strange therapist, Duncan tries to get to the root of his, uh, internal problem, before the creature kills everyone in his life!

If you come into the movie with the right attitude, Bad Milo will be able to take your probably extremely low expectations and flip them on on their head. Let's just get things straight here again: the movie is about a creature who lives in a dude's ass. A two-foot tall creature with a fairly gigantic head and sharp, sharp teeth and nails. In Duncan's butt. The movie has the absurdity of little creature features from the 80s like Critters, Ghoulies, or Gremlins (the obvious comparisons) but Bad Milo at least tries to go beyond the basics of its absurd plot to help tell the tale of a normal guy with normal problems that need fixing. A problem I had, though, was that the problems in Duncan's life really didn't seem all that major to cause him so much stress. There are worse things in life than just your mother nagging you about having a baby, just sayin'.

A big part of Bad Milo's success is the impressive cast, led by the very competent Ken Marino as Duncan. He plays Duncan as the perfect everyman, just a good guy who gets stepped on and controlled by everyone around him and doesn't have the guts (HAHA, see what I did there?) to stand up for himself. The guy playing the doctor that Duncan and his wife Sarah are visiting at the beginning was hilarious through his entire scene, playing the kind of the doctor that you both want and don't want for yourself. Strange bedside manner. Mary Kay Place as Duncan's mother is also funny, considering a certain reveal near the end, and Stephen Root is fantastic as always as Duncan's dad Roger. Peter Stormare practically steals the show from everyone as the New Age-y, hippie type therapist Highsmith. It still surprises me to see Stormare be so funny in different roles. It's hard for me to get him as Grimsrud from Fargo out of my head whenever I see him in something else! Anyway, aces all around in the casting department.

Oh, and Milo. He's funny, ugly, and adorable all at the same time. The movie sets its own precedent for Milo's existence as being based on some kind of myth about this creature being a manifestation of your subconscious and being able to carry out your darkest desires for you. And apparently that turns into a bulbous, wrinkly, flesh-colored thing that can thrive in the anus. Sure. Why not. Milo doesn't talk but instead makes these little chittering noises, kind of like Gizmo from Gremlins. Milo is also a very nice looking practical puppet who is perhaps just as good an actor as anybody else. And he's practical pretty much all the way through, I think - maybe they snuck in some CGI while I wasn't looking, but I still like. Could Milo become a new cult favorite monster? We'll see!

Most surprising about the movie is that given the premise, it never gets into that really crude or juvenile area of humor that I hate that so much. Of course there is toilet humor to a degree but it is not done in a stupid, "pooping is funny" way so I didn't mind it at all. A lot of the comedy comes from just the characters' personalities and the perfect timing by the actors - and also from this one really great scene where a woman refuses to reciprocate oral sex, which is of course funny to me because movies usually show the situation as a guy dissing a girl after she's done the deed, know what I mean? Good move, girlfriend. Undoubtedly the best scene of the movie is the little montage of Duncan and Milo living together in a motel room, while they try to bond with each other - and while Duncan tries to get Milo to want to eat something other than humans. It's a pretty hilarious and strangely touching scene at the same time. There's also this weird parallel between Duncan and Milo's relationship and Duncan's reluctance to be a father but they actually made that work out alright in the end.

There are times when the pacing is a little off and there are dialogue-heavy gaps between funny or action scenes, but Bad Milo is still a joy. It's definitely heavy on the quirk side but a great cast and a great overall attitude and tone make this one that anybody could dig.

You might also want to take note of the fact that Milo bites a penis off at one point. I'm not really sure why I had to add that in here... just an interesting tidbit to make you more curious...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: "The Witching House" by Brian Moreland

My favorite types of books have always been the ones that make you not want to stop reading until the end. You're sitting there reading, you haven't moved in about four hours, and you probably really have to use the bathroom (even then, you just take the book with you, anyway) but you cannot bear to think of doing anything else until you've gotten to the final word on the final page. I've found an author that can deliver that kind of experience for me, because I've now read three books by him and all of them were read in no more than two sittings. This time author Brian Moreland has delivered the goods with a much shorter - but still highly enjoyable - piece called "The Witching House."

Forty years ago, the Blevins house was the scene of something most horrific - twenty-seven people, all members of a coven of witches, were brutally slaughtered inside the house. Now two young couples are doing a little "urban exploring" at the famous haunted house, not knowing that whoever - or whatever - committed those horrible acts decades ago is still there, and still hasn't lost its taste for human blood.

Sometimes it seems like creating a good horror story is getting harder and harder these days. The genre is perhaps more popular than it has ever been and everybody is getting in on it. Based on the two previous books of Moreland's that I'd read, "Dead of Winter" and "Shadows in the Mist," I knew I could expect something bloody and interesting with this book, but I wasn't expecting yet another new twist on familiar horror tropes done in wonderfully different ways. "The Witching House" leads you to believe at first that it will be your basic haunted house tale, then maybe it will throw in some extra freaky stuff when witches are mentioned. But the reveal of just what is going on inside the Old Blevins House is something so crazily brilliant that Moreland deserves more than just a pat on the back for what he's accomplished.

I mean, the first line of the book talks about "the house that ate people." That gets your interest, right? Especially for gorehounds like me, who loved reading in "The Witching House" about people getting torn apart, and walls and floors covered in a black ooze with a life of its own. Moreland's description of the setting and the action is detailed enough so that the images easily come to mind and I felt like I knew exactly what his monstrous cellar creature looked like in his mind, too. Again, he has written something that reads like a script to a great horror movie - and I hope that doesn't come off as offensive or anything. I just loved how vivid and quick-paced the whole story was, and I love the experience of being able to completely envision what I'm reading without any distractions.

The main character is Sarah Donovan, who is trying out the urban exploring thing with her new adventurous boyfriend Dean, and his friends Casey and Meg. The latter couple is not given enough time to really develop their characters but the reader is definitely given the sense that they are likable and fun. Sarah and Dean are given both wonderful personality traits and flaws which only make you like them all the more. I really have no complaints in this area - the characters are real and you believe them in this situation, and the dialogue is natural and real-sounding, as well.

The story works very well on its own as a novella, but I couldn't help but be immensely curious about some of the stories we weren't getting to the full extent in "The Witching House." I don't know if it would have even added anything to the story really but I think it would have been so interesting to get more backstory. I would have loved to read more about what it was like in the Blevins house while the coven was still living there and the kinds of things they did, and also what it was like for Sarah with her grandmother's experience with Wicca and just how that might have given her the strength to survive her current situation. Moreland sprinkles in little hints, though, that let you come up with your own backstories and explanations.

It's an honor to be able to support an author like Moreland. There are some truly great voices out there creating some of the best and most fun horror literature that I've ever read and he is definitely one of them. I've still got his most recent book to read - "The Devil's Woods" - and now it looks like he's got something new coming out in June called "The Vagrants." Until then, I suggest to everyone that you get caught up on what this great author has to offer. "The Witching House" is an amazing piece, and only shows a small portion of this author's great talent. Discover him today!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Short and Sweet: American Muppet (2014)

Need a good laugh today? Watch this short video, which has some of our beloved childhood figures in a very different situation than you've ever seen them in before...

Big thanks to one of the short's producers for sending me this. I'm glad to share it!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Movie Roundup: Buried Alive, Schizo, and Gravity

Buried Alive (2007)
It's almost kinda sad that a TV movie from 1990 with the same name was a helluva lot better than this Buried Alive. It's a real crapfest from 2007 whose only claim to fame is Tobin Bell, very popular by that time because of Saw. He plays a hick groundskeeper against your typical cast of young and overly sexual college kids who are staying in the family home of Rene and Zane for the weekend. Big shocker: the house is supposedly haunted. So Rene has brought two of her sorority pledges along to do some initiation torture on them (actually, us real sorority members call that hazing and it's something that nobody does anymore) and Zane is there looking for the family fortune in gold. But there's some kind of spirit of an old woman around and she is a hellion with an axe, lemme tell you. That's the only place this movie gets points - the kills. The characters are surprisingly not that cliche, and are actually kind of weird and twisted, but you still don't care anything about them. Miss Chops-A-Lot makes things interesting by doing cool shit like slicing somebody in half lengthwise and chopping off another's face. None of it is really a good enough reason to actually watch the movie, mind you. It's pretty lame, you can skip this one for sure.

Seriously, though, has anyone seen that TV movie Buried Alive with Tim Matheson? It's really good.

Schizo (1976)
"When the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing?" What the hell kind of tagline is that? Give it to an obscure 70s British thriller to pull me in with its admittedly vague premise . Here we have young newlywed Samantha who is some cute little figure skater and who, after her wedding is announced in the paper, starts being stalked by a strange older man. She sorta claims to not really know who he is or why he's following her, but she totally does. Remember, the movie is called Schizo... that's a big HINT HINT right there as to what's going on. Still, I can't say that I completely hated Schizo. The plot moves a bit slow at times and there's not much to look forward to with the action or kills, but some of the characters are actually fun and they're all well played by people with great accents and even better fashion sense. Home decorating... not so much, but I guess that's not important. The deaths are surprisingly brutal and graphic given the pace of the rest of the movie, and there is one freakalicious scene with a medium, so you can look forward to that.

Gravity (2013)
Hate me if you must, but I did not think too much of Gravity. For sure there is no denying that the movie is visually stunning and beautiful, and had I seen it in the theater, I'm sure the graphics and camera movement would have made me feel like I was in space, too. But pretty isn't everything. The reason I didn't completely love Gravity is because I was never really given a reason to be that invested in the characters or story. The dialogue is inane bullshit that is supposed to make us like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and I guess we do, but do we really care that much about them? Clooney's snarky, talkative Kowalski is the same supposedly lovable and charming character he's played in, oh, just about every movie he's ever done, so there's nothing new there. Bullock's character is way too fragile to have been allowed in space, and we're supposed to sympathize with her because her daughter died. I don't know, I guess the movie was made more for the experience of watching it and not so much for longevity. Not really a good thing, if you ask me. But yes, it is a pretty movie.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Movie Review: How To Be A Serial Killer (2008)

In my recent review for the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, my blog buddy Kaijinu reminded me of a somewhat similar movie that I actually had in my Netflix queue for a long time but never watched. And though How To Be A Serial Killer definitely has its moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, there's something that feels a bit off about this one - but not necessarily enough to make me entirely dismiss it.

Mike Wilson is a serial killer who takes pride in what he does. When he comes across young video store clerk Bart, Mike finds a kindred soul to whom he can teach the ins and outs of serial killing. Bart proves to be an eager student, but things start to go downhill for the two when Mike starts to break some of his own rules.

I guess the thing that feels "off" about the movie is the way that the scenes different from the main story are handled. We have a psychiatrist being interviewed by somebody for something about the psychology of serial killers in general - stuff that anybody who's ever seen even one documentary or read one book about serial killers would be able to regurgitate. Then we have Bart breaking the fourth wall talking about his experiences with Mike to... somebody. Finally, we have the seminar scenes where Mike gives his presentation as a motivational speaker about how to be a serial killer. The thing is that that there is no explanation for why any of these scenes are different from the main story. It's not even like they are just happening in the characters' heads or something like that - they're just there for no reason. Not saying that these scenes aren't entertaining, though; the seminar stuff is pretty hilarious and probably my favorite parts of the movie. Mike is every bad motivational speaker you've ever seen, spouting off cliches one after the other, and he's also dressed strangely like a magician with shiny purple and red shirts that he actually pulls off really well.

Dameon Clarke as Mike is the best part of the whole movie, as he is so freaking charming and handsome even when he's talking about killing people. And he looks damn good in those jeans, Imma tell ya. Anyways, like I said, the seminar scenes were the best parts simply because of Clarke's performance. There's a look he can get in his eyes that makes you believe that this dude is not only really hot, but that he also possibly could be a serial killer. He likes to "mess with" Bart a bit, and though he always laughs it off, it's hard to tell if he ever really meant it or not.

Matthew Gray Gubler has a natural adorable charm and awkwardness about him that makes Bart a fun character to watch, even if he never really evolves or seems to learn anything. You'd think that what he goes through with Mike would make him see that serial killing is, you know, wrong or something but not so much. Their relationship is odd, and it was hard for me to believe that Mike would actually think that Bart was capable of killing somebody because I never saw it myself.

How To Be A Serial Killer is mostly a comedy, or dark comedy to get technical, so don't really expect too much action in the actual serial killing department. We get to see Mike killing people in different ways, and some of the aftermath of his killing, but it's all done in a comedic way instead of being at all gory or bloody. Gorehound that I am, I didn't mind it so much here because the comedy was good enough to make me overlook that. Also, the sounds of the guns firing are so obviously from shooting blanks. Is there some reason why this wasn't fixed for the final film? That's a bit amateur.

The overall look of the film is also a little amateur, or at least low budget, but is it weird to say that that is part of the charm? The comedy takes care of a lot of the charm, too, and it sucks that they sort of let that element falter in favor of the action that speeds up around the two-thirds mark. The music is also something to enjoy here, matching the tone of the film with lots of upbeat piano work and such.

It's not as good as other dark horror comedies, but How To Be A Serial Killer definitely has something about it. The lead actors are fantastic in their roles and their charisma sucks you in from the beginning and carry you through the entire film well. Some of the plot elements could have been more cohesive with each other, but that won't stop you from loving them each individually.

I'll leave with you a fairly lengthy transcript of my favorite scene in the film - Mike's first lesson in serial killing: proper manners. This had me practically guffawing for some reason. I love it.

"I don't care how annoying they are, or how curious you might be - children are off limits. Stay away from the mentally and physically handicapped. That's cheating. I've always loved animals and never would do anything to hurt our furry little friends. Sociopaths kill animals. Real serial killers kill people. Never rob your victims. You go down that road, it's tough to get off. It starts off with a 20, ends up with a C-note, and then pretty soon you're just a petty thief who happens to kill on the side. Don't rape. Don't ever rape. Rapists are the scum of the earth. Love women, respect women. Find a way to earn their love. There are over 6 billion people in this world and it's not secret that a lot of them deserve to die. Just think - if I was in Vienna right around the turn of the century, I might have done away with Hitler. You never know what kind of service you're gonna do the world by doing somebody in. Kill people that are better off dead. I try to do at least one selfless thing per day. If you find yourself thinking the serial killing is selfish and you're doing it just to make yourself happy, take a trip to an elderly home and find somebody who wants to die but can't. You don't have to Kevorkify your life, but you can give back. Any little gesture of kindness counts."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Movie Review: The Seasoning House (2012)

Some movies put you in a happy, feel-good mood. My personal favorite is Angels in the Outfield, but anyway. Some movies are sad. Some movies are pretty goddamn depressing, actually. I love Mystic River but I always have to talk myself out of committing suicide after sitting through that depressing mess. Now there has come a movie that pretty much makes me lose any faith I had left in humanity, if only for the time it took to watch it.

The Seasoning House takes place during the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. Young deaf mute Angel is one of many girls to have their family slaughtered and be abducted by the vicious militia commander Goran. He sells the girls into sex slavery at a rundown brothel operated by Viktor. Viktor takes a liking to Angel and chooses her to be the one to "prepare" the girls for clients - until one day when Goran and his men make a visit to the brothel and Angel decides to fight back.

To be honest my main motivation for watching The Seasoning House was seeing Sean Pertwee, even in an evil role. But my goodness, this movie fucking sucked. I mean, it's a really great, beautiful, brilliant movie - but the subject matter and the way it made me feel really sucked. The tone of the film is bitter and depressing throughout, with absolutely no relief ever from the horror that your eyes and mind are subjected to. However, it is still beautiful in its own way, and a masterful feat for first-time director Paul Hyett.

Rosie Day absolutely deserves all the praise she has gotten for her role as Angel, a role in which she doesn't speak a word and doesn't have to. All of Angel's character traits come through in Day's facial expression and physicality - how she is young and innocent, but still has her moments of defiance, resilience, and stubbornness. At times she makes Angel seem rather blasé about what she experiences at the brothel, which was often a bit confusing and/or frustrating. But seeing how Angel handles herself at the end, it seems more like her attitude was in part for her own mental survival, and in part her keeping tabs on all the bad shit these assholes do so that taking revenge on them is no problem for her (or for us as the audience). After being in the brothel for a bit, Angel has figured out how to move from room to room through the crawlspaces of the house, and some of the craziest shots of the movie show Day expertly slithering in and out of these tiny vents in the walls. Definite points for agility for that girl.

Sean Pertwee as the evil Goran is perhaps perfect casting because of Pertwee's look and voice, though I do hate to see him do stuff like this. He needs a romantic comedy role or something. It's actually quite strange that Goran turns out to be film's main villain because doesn't actually commit any of the atrocities that some of the other men do, like shooting innocent civilians or raping the girls in the brothel, but he is responsible for allowing and causing all this to happen in the first place. Just as bad. Actor Kevin Howarth gives Viktor a strange likable quality that makes it hard to judge his character at times and how he really feels about what he is doing. Another standout actor simply for his look is the bald-headed rapist that Angel kills. The guy looks over six feet tall and like his body was chiseled out of wood - and here he is against little bitty Angel, but you're almost more scared for him because you know this girl has had enough of seeing what happens to these girls in the brothel.

It was actually a small comfort to me that there is no female nudity in the film, but of course that doesn't make the rape scenes (of which there are thankfully only two) any easier to watch. In the first one, there is a guy who apparently pays Viktor more money to be rough with the girls, and he rapes Vanya (a girl that Angel befriends) so violently that he breaks her pelvis. I officially hate people after watching something like that. And then, just because the scene wasn't horrifying enough, here comes the doctor to check on Vanya, a kindly old man who gives her a creepy smile while telling her that she merely has some bruising and tearing "down there." I really do hate people.

Also tough to watch is a flashback scene near the beginning that shows how Angel came to be captured  after she witnessed her mother being shot to death by one of Goran's men. The militia callously shoots the family members of the young girls they are grabbing for Viktor's brothel. Almost everybody gets their comeuppance in the end, though, and particularly satisfying is what happens to Goran. There are a few twists at the end involving some other characters that are a bit too contrived, and the ending is ambiguous, so I'm still left feeling a little down about that.

You're not going to particularly enjoy watching The Seasoning House but you still should. The cinematography, though just as depressing looking as the tone of the movie, is beautiful in practically every scene with some nice slow motion work to emphasize the moody feeling. The movie really shows the talents of Day and Hyett, and I expect great things from both of them in future projects.