Saturday, February 29, 2020

Life And Times of A Middle School Avenger: Liverleaf (2018)

Liverleaf (Misumisô) (Japan, 2018)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Anna Yamada, Hiroya Shimizu, Rinka Ôtani

I came for the gore, I left with a teen psycho-drama. But hey, at least it came with a gory bodycount!

Haruka Nozaki (Anna Yamada) is a transfer student who somehow found herself trapped in a cycle of bullying perpetrated by a notorious gang of delinquents and egoistic posh girls. Some of them justifies this as payback for stealing a boy from one of their friends, others are just in it for the sadistic enjoyment. Regardless, it all escalated to dire proportions one day as Haruka's home catches fire, burning her parents dead and leaving her sister in critical condition. Traumatized and emotionally drained despite the efforts of a few kind souls, including fellow transfer student Mitsuru Aiba (Hiroya Shimizu) as well as her grandfather who takes her in, Haruka can only think of one thing to make things even: murderous revenge.

Clocking for almost two hours, Liverleaf (2018) was adapted from a 20 chapter manga of the same title (Of sorts. Alternative titles apparently include Hepatica) by Oshikiri Rensuke and the movie is best described as first half slasher and second half psychological horror drama. While the comic has a narrative that jumps back and forth via flashbacks to flesh out its characters and the situation they're in, the movie squeezes the narrative into a single direction of varying pacing in which we get to spend some time first focusing on the kind of abuse our protagonist and her parents are going through, cementing the kind of wretched monsters the bullies are on their own. This pretty much sets the slasher film-style bodycounting part of the plot and, in all honestly, its as glorious as it can be with all of the bloodletting, gore and grimly satisfying comeuppances the victims have to suffer through.

The moment the "disposable" victims got taken care off is when Liverleaf (2018) slows down into an entirely different creature; now centering itself around Haruka, Aiba, the bullies' ringleader Taeko Oguro (Rinka Ôtani) and a very disturbed secondary bullying victim Rumi Sayama (Rena Ôtsuka), the film twists its course by revealing more fleshed out motives behind the attacks which, in turn, developed the remaining four main casts in ways one may not have expected. New monsters get created. Supposed antagonists turn to a new leaf. I truly have no qualms over this but some of these curveballs felt unnecessary for their randomness and/or how little they work with the story. Yes, I am aware that this is how the comic went down and I know some of these "surprise villains" claim they ended up that way because of their own instances of abuse, which is in par with the anti-bullying message of the story, but seeing how little were given to build and earn this turn of events despite all of that running time made a bulk of these twists feeling rather cheap, desperate and borderline cheesy.

Production-wise, Liverleaf (2018) is, nevertheless, still strikingly gorgeous despite the violence and depressing undertones as its cinematography worked a lot on contrasting its white winter backdrops with the red splash of practical red corn syrup and CG-assisted splatters, elevating the intensity of the killings and stalking one can already get from a snowed barren wasteland of a small town that's slowly wallowing in its own filth, figuratively and literally. And with some of its camera-work acting as a secondary blade to play around with the violence of the film, I can't help but feel amused by the stylish implications done to this movie's killings.

The music also played its part on enforcing quite a fitting score that changes from subtle tones to that of evoking feelings of mayhem and liberation, if not both. Acting is no short of being okay from all of the talents involved, too, but I could have given it a more passing hand if only the movie found a way to properly build some of these characters to be more than one-note pathetic bullies deserving to be cut up with a knife in a slasher flick.

Gory and Moody, Liverleaf (2018) may not work all the way, but it has a considerable weight as a fantasized revenge drama drenched in blood and guts. So if you're in the mood to watch some old fashioned bully hunting with some attempt of character building in a manner of a late afternoon TV soap, best to give this a shot!

1 male and 1 female burned to death in a house fire
1 female gets a nail to an eye, beaten to death with a pipe
1 female had a heel cut, trips and lands head first to a debris
1 female beaten to death with a pipe
1 male stabbed and cut with a knife, broke his legs on a fall and left for dead
1 male shot through the head with a crossbow, stomped on the face
1 male eviscerated with a knife, neck stabbed
1 elderly female dies from stab wounds
1 female shredded through a snow macerator
1 female beaten, stabbed on the throat with a branch
1 male shot on the eye with a crossbow
1 female bled to death from a stabbed gut
Total: 13

Note: Left out some possible survivors as no confirmation whether they passed away or not were given.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Drug-Laced Alien Massacre: Welcome to Willits (2016)

Welcome to Willits (2016)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Bill Sage, Chris Zylka, Anastasia Baranova

Alien invasion? Drug use? Backwoods bodycounting? Yep, we're definitely gonna need some buttered popcorn for this one, boys and girls.

Down in the woods of Willits, California, local pot farmer Ash Williams (Not to be confused with Ashley J. He Who Hath Fallen From The Sky To Deliver Us From The Terrors of The Deadites Williams) is convinced that monstrous space men once infiltrated his brain after he cooked up some really good shit in his drug lab some time ago. With this nightmarish memory haunting him since, the farmer had grown paranoid that the aliens will soon come back to finish him for good and, with visions of horrifying intergalactic menaces getting more and more frequent, he thinks said return is happening this one night when he spots a snarling alien prowling in the woods.
Not wanting to go down without a fight, Ash tags along his fellow chemical-head wife Peggy to kill off the nasty invaders with nothing but their determination to commit alien genocide and shells full of buckshots, coincidentally lowering down the number of teenagers from a nearby camping group of six much to the horror of Ash's visiting niece. I wonder why..,?

With the twist coming in pretty darn early and will become the butt of the dark joke this movie revels in and, truth be told, the film could have gotten the standardized "another backwoods slasher" treatment real quick and easy without it as the "scifright" element is that entertaining for its worth. The slasher elements, in turn, still follows a decent killer-in-the-woods-type horror tropes of stereotyped characters and plotting pitfalls of finding reasons to split-up or the classic sex-means-death allusion, but handled with the kind of wry direction, dry comic performance and somewhat twisted cynical sense of humor that works well on a thin-storied B-grade slasher.
Much of the narrative's groundwork focuses on our William character's slow descent to homicidal madness as he continues to believe that aliens are starting to surround his home and his urge to fight back increases the longer he dwells on this delusion. It is a fascinating watch thanks to actor Bill Sage's nutty performance as our main pothead, managing to straddle between the line of being funny and horrifying impressively. For one end, you'll be laughing at his obscure and out-of-this-world ramblings (pun intended) for how silly and over-the-top it is, but the moment he's starting to turn on against his own family, he and the film's direction is quick to grab the severity of the situation and push the flow to a more genuine yet familiar horror-fueled run.

Gore effects used here are pretty diverse considering the kind of plot Willits is running, which meant we do get to see both human and alien dismemberment done in that sweet, gooey, latex and corn syrup work. Some of the kills do lean forward to a more "off-camera" approach which may disappoint gorehounds, but the resulting corpse effects do make up for it, may it be a rotting monster carcass or stoners with their heads cut or blown off. The movie's lighting also helps in a way that it varies to suit and enhance a scene's creepy-yet-absurd feel, ranging from psychedelic vomit of colors to wallow us in a character's drug-induced hallucination, to shadowy backdrops to hide away creepy alien creatures standing cautiously behind the woods.
If there will be any real drawbacks, I would say that some scenes do show the budgetary constrains Willits suffers from time to time, and the flow can get pretty janky with its tendencies to jump back and forth from weed-induced fantasy to weed-embraced reality, particularly around scenes that involves an in-universe cop show called Fists of Justice that just doesn't work out for me. (I mean, there's cheesy. And then there's "cheesy". Fists lands face first on the latter...) Still, the positives are funny and gory enough for me to overlook these little shortcomings, so it's barely a flaw that ruins the film. (Plus, there's an adorable possum in a vest. You can't go wrong with that!)

At the end of it, Welcome to Willits (2016)'s mix of stoner comedy, scifi monster horror and backwoods slasher is best enjoyed for its oddly delightful writing, eccentric acting and a fitting self-aware meth-based humor. If you're looking for a uniquely simplistic horror comedy that packs some spacey laughs, this is a likely candidate for your movie night!

1 male shot on the head with a shotgun
1 male hacked on the head with a hatchet, decapitated
1 female shot on the back with a shotgun
1 male shot with a shotgun
1 female shot on the head
1 female had her head stomped
1 male decapitated with a tree splitter
Total: 7