GRIMMFEST 2018: Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2018
Directed by: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Marli Siu, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins

Written by Sasha Hornby

“What if High School Musical had zombies?” When Anna and the Apocalypse was first conceived, this was the pitch. 8 years later, this zom-com Christmas musical is taking the film festival world by storm – and met with uproarious laughter and applause as the Grimmfest closing film. Set in the peaceful British town of Little Haven, a global pandemic threatens to derail Christmas. Anna (Ella Hunt), and her friends, John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Lisa (Marli Siu), plus ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), must fight and sing their way to survival.

The film opens (after a wonderfully animated opening credits has run) with Anna, and best friend John, getting a lift to school from her dad, Tony (Mark Benton). Some minimal exposition occurs during this journey; as the trio discuss Anna and John’s plans for post-school – Anna wants to travel the world, John wants to go to art school – the radio plays a news bulletin detailing the flu-like disease doing the deadly rounds.

Even those uninitiated in zombie lore know the story from here. The infected die, and their still-animated corpses single-mindedly seek out living humans for sustenance. Meanwhile, our hapless heroes have to traverse their sleepy town, now teeming with the living dead, to reunite with each other. In this respect, Anna and the Apocalypse has little new to add to the undead canon. The same rules apply – don’t get bit, avoid the hordes, aim for the brain. There is a quaint social-commentary attempted as the zombies are easily distracted by flashing lights, glittering tinsel and vlog-style videos made on a phone. For the most part though, the evolution of living to undead is familiar.

What does stand out is the way the kids navigate the end of the world. We all remember being 17, and thinking we’re all grown up and know everything we need to know. The titular Anna is no exception. She’s tough, and practical. And stubborn. She believes she can still go globetrotting, even in the face of Armageddon. Ella Hunt is the perfect choice for Anna, as she exudes effortless cool in every frame. It’s easy to root for her. She also manages to look bad-ass while wielding a novelty candy cane as a weapon. John is Anna’s polar opposite. He’s a little geeky, unashamedly wears a light-up festive jumper, and definitely doesn’t keep his cool. Malcolm Cumming has impeccable comedy timing, playing bumbling yet adorable fool with aplomb. If he doesn’t go on to become a top talent in British comedy, I will be very surprised.

If you thought the only antagonist in Anna and the Apocalypse was the zombies, you’d be dead wrong. John’s nemesis Nick is the school bad boy, played with delicious delight by Ben Wiggins. Wiggins walks with an unrivalled swagger, clearly relishing his big moment crooning about his zombie-killing skills. The real big bad though is acting head-teacher Savage (Paul Kaye), who so clearly hates children, you have to wonder why he ever became a teacher at all! He is utterly demented, void of any compassion, finding the zombie apocalypse a massive inconvenience to his plans for school domination. Kaye is a scene-stealer, delivering each line with a harsh wit. His descent into nihilism is hammed up to 11, with one particular song standing out for hilariously painting Savage as a cartoon villain.

The soundtrack is chocked full of absolute bangers. It has been 3 days since I saw the film, and I am still humming “Hollywood Endings”. To categorise Anna and the Apocalypse is an impossible task. It has been called “La La Land meets Shaun of the Dead.” I say think Glee, but set in Grange Hill, with more blood. Every song is delightful, many laugh out loud. An entirely inappropriate Christmas serenade, sung like a wicked version of the “Jingle Bells Rock” performance in Mean Girls, had me weeping. Everyone commits so fully to the musical trope of bursting into explanative ditties, or emotion-laden refrains, singing and dancing their hearts out for us on screen, they earn your buy-in.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an absurdly good time, dripping in laconic Scottish humour, with a cast of misfits you can’t help but care about. I recommend everybody make this their festive film treat when it’s released in cinemas on November 30.

Sasha’s Verdict

4-5

Advertisements

JUMPSCARECUT: Child’s Play (1988)

Year: 1988
Directed by: Tom Holland (no, not that one!) 
Starring: Catherine Hicks, Brad Dourif, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent

Written by Jessica Peña

To some people, there isn’t anything creepier than a vintage, distressed doll. There’s a common terror when it comes to the fear of life-like, possessed dolls who go haywire and wreak havoc as they ink their stories into film. For today’s bit, we aren’t talking ‘Annabelle’ or ‘Dead Silence’, or even that possessed clown doll in ‘Poltergeist’. No, there’s a more devilishly satirical figure in the grim land of horror…

His name is Chucky and he’s your friend ‘til the end!

If you grew up watching ‘The Rugrats’ as a kid, imagine being smacked with this new association with the name “Chucky” after somehow watching ‘Child’s Play’ when you were in first grade. The cult staple that Chucky is transcends pass the thing of youth nightmares and somehow reaches to fright your inner child to this day. For this reason alone, it’d be remiss of us if we didn’t take a retrospective look at ‘Child’s Play’ 30 years after its wide release.

The ‘Child’s Play’ trilogy caters to a certain style of early supernatural slashers. Later on, the modern string of ‘Chucky’ films do get grotesque and crude for the sake of it, but also don’t quite hit the higher notes of its forerunner flicks. Critically, it’s fair to say that the series of Chucky movies begin to drain themselves starting with ‘Child’s Play 3′, but there’s a certain sinister tale in the first film that is interestingly backdropped by the child consumer marketing of the late eighties.

Why do children hold such a trusted bond with their dolls, but also how would it play out if that tie were to break? When we’re not looking, what is that Barbie up to? Where do all the Beanie Boos hang out at night? It’s funny to think about right now, but we’ll see who’s laughing when those Cabbage Patch rascals plot your death. And for these thoughts alone, it’s quite easy to understand the mind of six-year-old Andy when his Good Guy doll comes to life. With methods like the first person camera set a dropped angle to mimic that of a toddler-sized doll running, to the interesting ways the crew edits takes to make the action sequences come to life, ‘Child’s Play’ is a testament to wild, sinister ideas done the right way, caricature elements allowed.

In Chicago one night, serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif and voice of Chucky) is chased down the street by a cop (Chris Sarandon), ending up at a toy store where he’ll eventually be shot dead, but not before passing his soul onto a Good Guy doll through his voodoo chants (cue in the CG storm clouds). The next morning, Andy Barclay is celebrating his sixth birthday, waking his mom up with an overflowing bowl of cereal and burnt toast just so she can join in on his excitement. Having seen the Play Pal’s Toys infomercial on the wildly popular Good Guys doll, Andy is eventually gifted a Good Guy his mom (Catherine Hicks) bought on the street for way too cheap. This, of course, is the doll Charles Lee Ray has now inhabited. In a race against time before he irreversibly turns human in the rubber vessel, Chucky realizes he has to transfer himself into the body of the first person he revealed his identity to- naive little Andy. But don’t be fooled, this kid tries valiantly to run circles around the doll, crying for help at every turn, but adults just never listen…then they die.   

The story unfolds in the mind of Don Mancini, having completed the original draft in the mid-eighties with a working title, “Batteries Not Included,” that’d eventually get flagged down as a result of Spielberg’s copyrighted project title. It then went to “Blood Buddy,” a more gore-induced idea that played with early ideas and story points. Ultimately, ‘Child’s Play’ gave way to the more higher notions of the film’s childlike connotations in contrast to the darker theme. And what a fitting title for a film that so swiftly turns to cold-blooded atrocities. The story sprouts as a grizzly satire on the way children are conditioned to be consumers of the economy, gently involving the obsessive craze of dressing up like the product, buying the same cereal, and collecting brand accessories. Obviously, it’s tweaked to depict this unworldly force of malicious, inventive imagination to tell the story.

What keeps your eyes locked on is the looming suspicions of when Chucky will strike, when will everyone start believing Andy, and why does everyone so carelessly drag and hit the doll on the walls and furniture all the time (In every film! Don’t even @ me. No wonder he wants to kill you all.)?!

Directed by Tom Holland (no, not the one who shoots webs), the film holds up in the ways that it should, paying more attention to details like practical effects rather than trying to be too ahead of its time. As Chucky murders his way to get back to Andy and settle loose ties of his own, you become more enamoured by the way he moves, the tricks of effects, the score, and the editing. Dialogue isn’t much of a strong suit with the Chucky series of films, but hey, if you come here wanting to see a toy doll slash it up, what do you expect? Charles Lee Ray is a savage, foul-mouthed, crusader of his own little world and it’s kind of entertaining.

Let’s dissect the pure ingenuity of the film and just how the method of practical special effects helped push Chucky into cult stardom. Kevin Yagher, a young puppet engineer at the time and animatronics genius, is the vital, unseen hero of the story. Without him, it’d be hard to imagine Chucky getting produced any other way. So it’s the late eighties and animatronic engineering is still in its early stages. After having worked on ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ just prior to this, Yagher and a group of engineers build the many layers and props for Chucky’s mold, using seamless facial recognition motors and who knows how many cables running just under the doll’s rubber complexion. From the doll’s facial progression into fleshy, human appearance (that voodoo begins to wear off and if you pay attention, the humanistic realism becomes apparent), to the use of a smaller actor in costume against a 30% overscaled model stage, the perceptive designs that summed up ‘Child’s Play’ are their own joint of iconicism.

It’s okay to say it, Chucky still terrorizes our dreams. It’s been so long since the film, so how are we still so engrossed by him? I’ll share an old nightmare with you: Chucky came to my elementary school and began chasing me and the other kids. We were terrified, screaming, locking ourselves into classrooms, hiding under pillows, turning the lights off…until he somehow opened the door into the dark room, casting just the shape of his silhouette. And he simply says “…Hi!,” and runs off!

In the same way he lurks and hides, he beguiles us, creeping on that thin line of childish irony and barbaric fear. If ‘Child’s Play’ did anything for me, it has to be the meticulous way this doll reminds, indulges, and humors me on my own childhood phobias. “Wanna play?”

JESSICA’S RATING:

4

JUMPSCARECUT: The Babadook (2014)

Year: 2014
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

Written by Corey Hughes

Jennifer Kent’s extraordinary feature-length directorial debut is an astonishing piece of work and a future classic for the horror genre.

Based on her 2005 short-film ‘Monster’, ‘The Babadook’ tells the story of a widowed mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), who battles with her everyday life of being a single mother and her son’s irrational fear of a monster supposedly lurking in the house. Kent’s tale presents the everyday rituals of a child plagued by nightmares – a check in the cupboard and a check under the bed – and by the time the film is over, you’ll find yourselves checking every crevice of your home in search for the demonic creature. It’s part-horror, part-psychological thriller, and part-family drama; but a wholly fascinating insight into the life of a troubled widow and her slowly deteriorating wellbeing.

There’s a muscular sense of confidence in Kent’s debut outing as a director, evident through her composed, patient preference for building tension rather than implementing lousy jump-scares to evoke undeserved audience reactions. The infusion of a provocative family drama within the framework of a supposed paranormal horror narrative is a refreshing take that will undeniably find itself among the great horror films of past decades; despite its initial lukewarm reception by casual filmgoers back in 2014.

The family unit, comprised of Davis’ Amelia and her paranoid son Samuel, is expertly written by Kent. Essie Davis is utterly convincing as the grief-struck single mother, who provides an internalised performance at the verge of implosion at the hands of Samuel’s incessant disobedience. Young Noah Wiseman, whilst infuriating in the role, is superbly cast as the troubled child. His persistent violence outbursts and his nails-on-a-chalkboard high-pitched screams truly get under one’s skin, but that’s the whole point, it’s a source of irritation for the viewer that builds to the eerie atmosphere that consumes the film. But as the film progresses the pair switch roles,  Amelia slowly descending into madness and Samuel rising to the occasion to protect his mother, their performances shift into more nuanced territory; an impressive feat for the pair.

The film’s central scare, though, is through its depiction of the everyday. At some point in our lives, we have all been struck by the death of a loved one, and Kent brings to our screens a tale of a mother and son trying to cope in a world where grief surrounds them at every moment of their lives. The film, itself, is extremely Freudian: the monster is not physically alive, but lies in the subconscious of Amelia and Samuel; a monster that has been fabricated by the pair to reflect their constant bereavement. The Babadook itself, then, is a haunting, demonic metaphor for internalised trauma conjured by the violent death of a husband and father – a subtle, but provocative, detail that will resonate with many.

The design of the monster seems to be largely inspired by Kent’s adoration for German Expressionist cinema, with its long, slender arms of Nosferatu and costume design of Dr. Caligari; it’s palpable that her fascination for such icons reflects upon her own creation. Perhaps The Babadook’s monster won’t have the cinematic immortality that its predecessors have rightfully earned, but it will forever remain, to me at least, as one of cinema’s most terrifying creations.

There is no apparent closure to Kent’s tale, and deservedly so. As much as “you can’t get rid of The Babadook”, you can never rid yourself of grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. We may find in ourselves the ability to accept and adapt to it, but the inner torment and sadness that we feel will always remain. And for that reason, Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook’ is a timeless, terrifying addition to horror cinema. I have a deep adoration for it.

JUMPSCARECUT: Hereditary (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne

Written by Cameron Frew

The finest horror film ever made.

The aura around the release of Hereditary earlier this year was a very curious beast. Billboards and posters were emblazoned with a very dangerous quote, “This generation’s The Exorcist”. A comparison to what is, widely regarded as, the scariest and straight-up best horror film of all time may seem like a glowing comparison, but in reality, it’s a detrimentally effective piece of criticism that can rub people off the wrong way. For instance, Mark Kermode, who famously worships the aforementioned classic, spoke of his scepticism in the time before Hereditary’s release, because of this very ‘recommendation’. On the other end of the spectrum, it can lead people to formulate a spectacular vision of the film in their heads, which inevitably, isn’t given life when they finally see it.

Funnily enough, the film turned out to be one of the more polarising events of the year. Not quite on the same level as Aronofsky’s mother! (a neglected masterwork), but divisive nonetheless. But going in without any scepticism, no knowledge of the film’s plot, no prior viewing of any footage whatsoever after avoiding trailers, I found Hereditary to be a tirelessly demented, incredibly traumatic, breath-taking trip into the darkest depths of psychological, family horror. What’s more impressive is it comes from Ari Aster in his feature film debut – although he’s responsible for some really terrific short film work, namely, the horrifying The Strange Thing About The Johnsons.

The plot is this: when the Graham family matriarch passes away, her daughter’s family begin to discover the truth about their disturbing and, potentially, harmful ancestry.

The daughter, Annie (Toni Collette), isn’t hit too hard by the death of her mother (“Should I be more sad?” she asks). It’s made very clear from the offset that their relationship wasn’t exactly hugs and kisses, with Annie saying they were estranged for a long time (but that she still ‘loved’ her). Living in a Grand Designs-esque home in a quaint wooded area, she focuses her time on constructing miniature portraits of life for an art-exhibition – a concept exploited awfully well in a fabulously immersive, trippy opening shot. Supporting her endlessly is her devoted husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who is also father to son Peter (Alex Wolff), a typical pothead teen, and introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). The dynamics in the family are set up immediately, particularly with Charlie. She doesn’t feel like she fits in with the family, and misses her Gran. This frustrates Annie, feeling like she can’t be a proper mother to her daughter.

But there’s far more at play here than family therapy. Without venturing into spoiler territory, Annie’s late mother was no innocent soul, perhaps fond of a dangerous séance every now and again. Her death brings all sorts of tragedy to the Graham family, reoccurring strange incidents and flat-out terrifying apparitions (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in which Annie sees her smiling mother in the dark corner of a room is pure nightmare fuel).

Collette is in absolutely remarkable form here. Embracing the sort of desperation we saw her brilliantly portray in The Sixth Sense, her heartache and struggles throughout the terror are never in doubt. It’s a vastly versatile role that requires the transformative ability to move, grip and unnerve – Collette succeeds and then some. The highlight of the piece is a seismic dinner confrontation, as Collette towers over Wolff, piercing through him with a fierce lecture on accountability. With awards season fast approaching, she would be a more-than-deserved winner of the golden gong come the big night. Byrne is a sound mind amidst the madness, optimistic and reassuring but also subtly aware of the peculiarities growing around him. His calm, collected and admirable take puts him high on the list of ‘Underrated Movie Dads’ for years to come.

Their kids carry the weight of much of the plot, with Wolff’s Peter evolving into a much bigger player as the madness escalates, and by golly, be prepared for a paralysing car ride. Shapiro as Charlie is the real star though. Haunting behind the eyes, yet carrying a painful vulnerability, her incessant mouth clicking and dead stare gets under your skin. The cast work together terrifically, coming across like any normal, turbulent family – only with more supernatural peskiness.

Rather wisely, Aster avoids the tendency to indulge in ghost train frights. Ordinarily, you may expect one or two, but there’s none to be found here. Instead, the up-and-coming filmmaker employs a ruthless atmosphere through a deep, nerve-inducing score from Colin Stetson, and impressively unpredictable camera direction. There are clear inspirations from classics such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen (and even 2011’s much underrated Kill List). And like those fondly remembered shockers, Aster’s film isn’t perfect – it’s a little overlong, occasionally fumbling around the good stuff towards the end. But it is important not to disparage Hereditary’s triumph by discussing the old – in with the new, as they say.

An outstandingly horrifying achievement from a debut filmmaker, Hereditary is a classic in the making, built on rock-solid, terrifying, atmospheric terror.

Hereditary is released on DVD and Blu-ray TODAY.

JUMPSCARECUT: The Voices (2014)

Year: 2014
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick

Written by Sasha Hornby 

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a man. A man who hears voices – ‘The Voices‘. When he accidentally kills the woman of his dreams, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he must decide whether he is going to listen to his malevolent cat, Mr. Whiskers, or his benevolent dog, Bosco.

At its heart the blackest of comedies, ‘The Voices‘ focuses on the town oddball, Jerry Hickfang, a simple, happy, overly-friendly dude who works at the local bathtub factory, Milton Fixture & Faucet International. Jerry isn’t like everyone else. He’s a little intense, bordering on creepy, but his peculiarities and enthusiastic nature are what makes him so likeable. And boy, is he enthusiastic! He loves pizza so much he excitedly takes the office’s excess cold slices home – even imagining the pepperoni pieces as love hearts. He adores the tacky Shi-Shan Chinese buffet, with its Asian Elvis, Bruce Lee impersonator and weird Godzilla performances, so unashamedly, he eagerly invites his crush, the English Fiona, on a ‘casual’ first date there (as if he could act casually). A dance with Fiona at the staff party is charmingly chaotic and uncoordinated.

Ryan Reynolds is in his element as Jerry. And voices of Mr. Whiskers (who is inexplicably Scottish) and Bosco. His rapid descent into insanity is not only believable, but he plays it so sweet, so ‘wants to be good’, that you can’t help but root for him. Even as he repeatedly stabs his love, he weeps, pathetically whispering “I’m sorry.” An exchange with his dog is heart-breaking, when Bosco says “You remember last week when you said that there was an invisible line that separates good from evil and you thought you’d crossed it and I said no no no no you’re a good boy?… I’ve changed my opinion.” The self-realisation that plays out on Reynolds’ face, as Jerry truly understands the impact of his killings, is beautifully nuanced.

Gemma Arterton is wonderful as the flirty Fiona, Jerry’s first crush. She’s exuberant, sexy, and relishes being the centre of attention. She’s the polar opposite of Lisa, Jerry’s first girlfriend, played by the always-delightful Anna Kendrick. Lisa is a wallflower. She likes Jerry, a lot, and is willing to forgive his many foibles.

The way Marjane Satrapi frames the juxtaposition between the candy-coloured beautiful world of Jerry’s mind, versus the dark gritty truth of reality, is masterful. It’s a glimpse of his dingy apartment, spattered with blood and littered with rotting body parts, before switching back to Jerry’s glossy clean vision of the same room. It’s a flash of the ashen faces of Jerry’s victims lined up in the refrigerator, compared to the perfectly preened disembodied heads he sees. His mind is so beguiling, it’s not hard to imagine why he prefers his hallucinatory view, why he would neglect to take the medicine prescribed to him.

The Voices‘ is largely forgotten in the wider pop-culture zeitgeist, but for all its madcap pandemonium, it’s a film with a kind heart and wicked soul. Jerry’s psychological issues are extreme, yet empathetically portrayed. As his therapist (Jacki Weaver) says, “being alone in the world is the root of all suffering – but Jerry, we’re not alone.” If anything, there’s a really positive mental health message to take from The Voices: we aren’t alone, and reality is where life is, so seek and accept help, gosh darn-it!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sing a happy song…

JUMPSCARECUT: Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (2016)

Year: 2016
Directed by: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

Written by Chris Gelderd

When unexplained sightings of ghosts start to come to light in New York City, former authors and scientists Erin Gilbert (Wiig) and Abby Yates (McCarthy) come together after being distant for many years to investigate the sightings.

With help from nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) and subway worker Patty (Jones), the quartet form a business that aim to research and prove the existence of ghosts whilst keeping people safe. They hire dim-witted receptionist Kevin (Hemsworth) and form the ‘Ghostbusters’, kitted out with Holtzmann’s equipment, a new car provided by Patty’s uncle and Erin and Abby’s knowledge of the paranormal.

They discover that a seemingly normal man, Rowan North (Casey), is behind the spooky goings-on as he uses devices to amplify paranormal activity in a wider plan to destroy Manhattan to satisfy his own deranged hatred of humanity. Only the Ghostbusters can stop him before it is too late, and also before they are deemed frauds by the Mayor (Garcia)…

Never has a remake of an 80s classic gained so much fear, scrutiny, and doubt than ‘Ghostbusters’. We’ve had ‘The Karate Kid’, ‘RoboCop’, ‘Conan The Barbarian’ and even ‘Annie’ but this is off the chart. It’s not surprising given the cultural significance of the family-friendly 1984 original populated with now iconic genre moments, characters and showcasing the talent of actors at the top of their game. Films like the original come along once in a generation, such as ‘Back To The Future’ and even ‘The Terminator’. They are a product that just should not be touched.

And this effort by Paul Feig shows why.

Firstly, to not like this film doesn’t make me racist, sexist or any other ‘–ist’ you can think of. If anything, I’m a Paul-Feig-Comedy-ist. Populated with actors with little acting experience bar work on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and those who are Paul Feig’s usual suspects, this feels like a film where Feig and crew have a goal to reach but can be silly and stupid along the way as long as they reach the end credits. It’s that untouchable bond between cast and crew that doesn’t always work in delivering something worthy to stand by its predecessor.

Melissa McCarthy, surprisingly, is probably least irritating out of the 4 leading ladies and she comes across as most humane of them all. Kristen Wiig continues her style of comedy where she narrates and makes overly unnecessary comments and quips about people or situations which gets old very quick. Kate McKinnon, whom I thought would be the best, turns out to be the worst with an annoying amount of over-played “wacky scientist” characterisation that comes across as nothing but childish. And Leslie Jones, while thankfully not as loud and in your face as the trailers made out, has her moments to shine but still plays a very uninspiring character. In fact, all characters are what you get initially on introductions; they don’t change, develop or progress from start to end. You have to take two acceptable characters to follow at the same time as following two irritating ones, which never makes for total satisfaction in viewing.

It’s actually Chris Hemsworth who comes off ok here, granted he’s playing a man who is dense to the point it’s too OTT at times, but I was chuckling along the lines of how absurd his character Kevin was and what his role was even relevant for except more silly gags, a point of lust for Erin and to use in the finale.

And the actors are fuelled by one thing I don’t sit well with – the comedy. Modern comedy, or that comedy that Paul Feig injected into work like ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘Spy’, is evident here. The film sucker punches you in the opening spooky 5 minutes where you have some wit in the script and you think you’re on safe ground; we even have the classic opening theme in short bursts, but then the “crude humour” that gained the film’s certification hits you.

Jokes and gags about wee and poo and sex and parts of the female anatomy. That’s when my expectations crashed and burned. If that sort of thing amuses you, along with characters who throw in racial quips, shout and do silly gurning and pratfalls in what I consider amateurish, lazy comedy, then you’ll be ok. If you prefer more discreet comedy and humour coming from character chemistry, serious delivery and an time when being crude wasn’t needed, then you’ll struggle to find this amusing.

Production-wise, it’s decent enough. It delivers a few moments that make you jump but if you’ve seen the trailers, you know when to expect them, and it’s always moments when the music goes quiet and then the sound is cranked up with loud piercing scream and exclamation. It’s not exactly discreet, but it’s there. And we have a wealth of locations across Manhatten to explore and plenty of energy from the leads to carry us through the 2hr story. The Ghostbusters certainly kick ghostly ass with a variety of gadgets and gizmos to add more action and excitement to the demand for bigger and better action scenes.

Nods to the 1984 original come thick and fast, and it shows that even though this is a reboot of the franchise, it can’t help remake the original bar a few character replacements. It shows to me there is no confidence in rebooting a series to be more original and just serves as a silly love-letter to the original from shoe-horning in short but amusing cameos from nearly all the main cast, showing us the firehouse, revamping ECTO-1, introducing Slimer and his girlfriend (ugh), keeping the proton packs and traps, and pretty much doing the same story but tweaked. From the opening pre-titles to the large, white monster in the finale, it’s a checklist of “spot the homage” in a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

But where the film most is the CGI. All the ghosts look like something from a computer game or an episode of Scooby-Doo. Colourful, crisp and cartoonish. A few work, most not and there is very little realism to them if anything. At least the original had effective model work and make-up on actors to give us something that resembled a human or monster, rather than just a colourful CGI creature. And it’s over-used in the finale where again, Feig abuses what he can do with CGI and delivers a tension free, action-heavy battle in front of green-screen that goes for excess rather than simplicity. No model/actor-in-costume/camera manipulation here like the iconic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – we have a CGI Godzilla style creature destroying the CGI city like all modern blockbuster films have their villain doing now. Yawn.

If I’d have known the humour would be this crass and lazy, I’d have not watched it but I did, as many will, out of curiosity on how a classic film is re-imagined for a modern generation. With another final moment after the credits that once more shows a lack of originality in setting up a sequel, I left feeling disappointed. That’s all. I wanted to enjoy it, but it just wasn’t for me. Had I known there would be so much nostalgia over originality, I’d have just watched the original at home and seen it done properly.

I will say one thing, I think it’s clear that a quarter of the budget went to the designing the closing credits; very visually appealing right to the end I have to say. Good job!

JUMPSCARECUT: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Year: 1996
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo

Written by Elena Morgan

Criminal brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) and their hostages, a faithless preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his two children, are on the run to the border. They stop at a popular bar, not aware that it’s run by vampires, and soon they are unlikely allies as they fight to survive the night.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez with a screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ is an interesting film. The first hour is like a crime thriller and then when the motley crew encounters the vampires, it turns on its head and becomes a horror film. Both Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s fingerprints are all over this film. Danny Trejo and Salma Hayek, two actors who appear in a fair few Rodriguez films, both make appearances and the script is full of fast-talking characters courtesy of Tarantino, and there’s plenty of bloodshed courtesy of both of them.

Clooney is equal parts cool and dangerous as Seth, while Tarantino’s Richie is a loose cannon, and his infatuation with women is not only alarming for the audience, but it’s something that causes problems for Seth. Personally, I couldn’t stand Richie. His attitude towards women was awful, leering at the preacher’s presumably teenage daughter, and based on odd lines from Seth, it seemed like he was prone to attacking/killing women. He comes across a lot younger than he is, like he needs Seth guidance or else he acts out, which then makes his actions even more disturbing.

The makeup and combination of practical effects and CGI on the vampires is fantastic. They are horrible, disgusting looking creatures and the mix of make up and computer effects when a person transforms into a vampire is unsettling. They look more like demons than the “classic” and almost sophisticated vampires you think of.

The showdown with the vampires is fun, gruesome and exciting. The innovative ways the gang make the typical vampire killing devices like holy water, crosses and stakes, is a lot of fun. As is when everyone decides unanimously that while it’s unbelievable, they are indeed dealing with vampires. It’s an interesting twist that instead of being in denial about what they’re seeing and experiencing, they just get on with it and get on with trying to survive any way they know how.

I kind of wish I’d gone into ‘From Dusk Till Dawn‘ not knowing this crime film turns into a horror film with vampires, as I was just waiting for the vampires to appear and was surprised by how long that took. But as the genre shift seems to be the films unique selling point, the reveal is in the trailer and on the DVD case, that’s unlikely ever to happen. But I’d be interested to hear from anyone who went into this film completely blind.

From Dusk Till Dawn is an interesting blend of crime and horror, it’s unpredictable, gory and George Clooney has probably never been cooler as he is here as Seth Gecko.

ELENA’S RATING:

3-5

 

JUMPSCARECUT: Maggie (2015)

Year: 2015
Directed by: Henry Hobson
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson

Written by Chris Gelderd

As the world is plagued by a Necroambulist virus that turns humans into zombies, it finds its way to a small American town. A young girl, Maggie (Breslin) is attacked and infected by the virus after daring to go out after curfew and in time brought to the hospital for treatment. Her father, Wade (Schwarzenegger), tracks her down and takes her home to care for her with step-mother Caroline (Richardson).

As Maggie develops painful and disfiguring side-effects as the virus slowly takes hold of her, Wade does all he can to protect and support his daughter who struggles to comes to terms with her fate – the virus will eventually kill her as a process called “The Turn”.

With the authorities breathing down Wade’s neck to ensure he does the right thing when the time comes, Maggie tries to live a normal remainder of her life with the love of a father who stands against anyone, or anything, who will try to take away her right to survive as best she can…

As of 2013 when Schwarzenegger returned to our screens to take the lead in film once more, his offering was rather tepid in terms of critical and audience reception. With 4 films as lead under his belt in under 2 years, and an uncertain future as the Terminator in a gambled re-boot of the franchise looms, it’s safe to say that his turn in ‘Maggie’ is, as an actor, his best role yet in many a year.

With a genre, trailer and poster that understandably tease you scares, zombies, blood-lust and action, this is the second supernatural film Arnie has tackled; the first being the apocalyptic ‘End Of Days’ in 1999. However, this film turns the zombie genre on its undead head and uses it as a backdrop for what otherwise is a heartfelt drama about a father and daughter’s bond through a life-changing event. And it’s refreshing because of it.

We don’t see Arnie taking down zombies with chainsaws, shotguns or pick-up trucks trying to save his daughter and the whole world. Instead, we see Arnie defend himself with only an axe and single barrel shotgun in a total on-screen kill count of 2. The tone of this film is bleak – from the near sepia colouring to the desolate American town filled with burning crop fields, low grey clouds, and abandoned roads. It’s not signalling the end of the world, but more like a community coming to terms with a virus they can try to contain, but also trying to deal with the emotional heartache it brings to those affected. It gives zombies and their families a chance to be seen as human before the virus takes over.

There is very little zombie action, which again is refreshing. Bar a couple of wandering undead that reminds us of the lingering threat, this slow-paced story is all about young Maggie who played brilliantly by Abigail Breslin who has become the latest victim of the virus and must come to terms with the knowledge she will eventually die and probably hurt those she loves in the process. She’s a young teenage girl who just wants to succeed in life and hang out with friends but finds it impossible when her own family are scared of her and her confidence is shattered slowly by the disfiguring transformation. Breslin plays it perfectly, conveying both determination and helplessness in her situation and her slow transition from teenager to zombie is chilling.

But this film also belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade, a husband and father who is trying to protect his family but primarily protect his daughter from herself and the threats of the outside world trying to lock her away. Schwarzenegger isn’t the greatest actor, and his back catalogue doesn’t require him to be as he was the pinnacle of action films and wooden acting that worked perfectly for his time. But now times have changed and he isn’t the acclaimed action star he once was, and so this film gives him the perfect opportunity to actually act for all his worth. No one-liners, no in-jokes, no action hero – here is just a father doing what a father would do to try and protect his child. He gives a sombre and emotional performance alongside Breslin and the two share some truly heart-breaking moments together with great chemistry from the off. There’s no clichéd rift to heal or anything like that, it’s simply a father and daughter from the start taking a journey that they know will end badly, but it’s how they come to terms with it and what they both are willing to do in order to protect each other and the family.

I found this a brave story to tell going against everything one could expect from the genre and the lead star. It is a very slow-paced film even for 90mins, and requires you to leave all expectations at the door and immerse yourself in a drama; nothing more. It’s bleak, it’s moving and not your usual Hollywood style happy ending, but it provides enough moments to make it all worthwhile if you invest in the two leads and see how their journey pans out.

Wonderfully acted, brilliantly shot and very chilling and tense in moments. This doesn’t offer anything new, but it’s down to the leads and the actual story that solidifies this as a very good film to watch, and a real gem from Arnie to show he can actually act given the right script and story away from CGI nonsense and the Hollywood blockbuster machine.

JUMPSCARECUT: Tusk (2014)

Year: 2014
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp

Written by Megan Williams

This films weird. Really weird. ‘Tusk’ was Kevin Smith’s first, and only, entry into the body horror genre and it starred the late Micheal Parks (Red State) and Justin Long (Jeepers Creepers). In the film, Justin Long plays a podcaster called Wallace Bryton, who travels to Canada and meets Howard Howe (Micheal Parks), a seemingly charming man who tells him a story of when he became lost at sea and was saved by a Walrus. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst as Wallace is drugged and, after waking up, is told that he’ll be surgically, and mentally, turned into a Walrus…Are you still with me?

‘Tusk’ was based on a Gumtree advert from someone who was looking for a lodger who would live in his house, rent-free. However, the catch was that the lodger would be required to wear a Walrus costume and act as the creature for two hours each day. This ad was read out by Kevin Smith on his podcast show Smodcast and captured his imagination so he and his podcasting partner, Scott Mosier, started pitching the idea and eventually sent out a Twitter hashtag (‘WalrusYes’ or ‘WalrusNo’) to see if his fan base would want to see this film made.

Through its weirdness, ‘Tusk’ is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen, with every shot looking like a work of art (even if the content isn’t pleasant). It’s also creepy and disturbing, mainly thanks to the film’s imagery and the extremely talented Parks. Long’s performance is also outstanding, even when wearing the nightmarish Walrus costume (the human/walrus screams will stay in my head for a very long time!)

Unfortunately, the film does have one flaw, and it is called Guy La Pointe. Played by Johnny Depp, Guy is a stereotypical French detective who is hired by Wallace’s girlfriend and his podcast partner to help find him. From the moment Guy is introduced, the film drastically changes its tone to a comedic one without much of a warning. This change in tone doesn’t work at all because you’re constantly being reminded of the grotesque imagery of the main story. The film works so much better when the tone and acting are straight because then the dark humour comes from the absurdity of the situation, and not forced jokes.

Despite its flaw, ‘Tusk is creepy, disturbing and weird, and this won’t be a film for everyone. If you’re into the body horror genre or just want to watch something completely different within the genre, I definitely recommend this. It’s not perfect, but it was a good introduction into the direction that Kevin Smith possibly wanted to take. Whether we’ll see any more horror films from him remains to be seen, but I definitely welcome it.

Megan’s Verdict:

4