Thursday, August 20, 2020

Astral Pain: Host (2020)

Host (United Kingdom, 2020)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb

During 2020's COVID-19 pandemic, six friends choose to spend some time under quarantine performing a seance over Zoom,  a cloud-based video conference service. With the help of a medium they invited, it's all fun and games until one of them went a tad too far poking fun at the session, somewhat angering an otherworldly force that wouldn't hesitate to haunt and hunt them all down.

Running only under an hour long, Host is a relatively modest techno-horror feature from director Rob Savage, basically a haunt movie with a bodycount and a "Screenlife" format similar to the likes of the Unfriended series, wherein we watch the entire spooks and carnage through a single computer or phone monitor. Story-wise, the film isn't doing anything far different from the classic supernatural horror plot, with the group dabbling into the unknown with little regards to the possible dangers they're putting themselves in, until that is people starts dying and they're desperately struggling to stay alive. 

It's scene after scene of horror trappings, particularly of the paranormal found footage variant with its share of eerie focus on darkened rooms, things moving on their own in the background and the generous helping of jump scares. Of course, this style and direction wouldn't work for everyone; some might find the movie's video conference-style pretty restricting or that the gimmick is nothing more than an evolved take on the found footage style, not really offering new aside from a more digital perspective. Others might see its quick pacing has a tendency to go over decent character or warranted plot development, but I personally don't mind any lack of depth in a movie's writing and/or scripting so long as it entertains. And Host entertains. 

With a group of decent actors doing a splendid job immersing themselves in the movie's horror and a talented director crafting the scares wonderfully with good timing and setup, Host boasts some genuinely impressive set-pieces from both its fright and murder sequences, some getting quite brutal and intense even without spilling a shocking amount of blood. (Though one did get awfully bloody. Like really bloody) Its cool practical stunt work and the creepy make-up and visual effects used for the villainous spirit and their rampage also further heighten the chill factor of these scenes and the fact that all of this was shot through and presented as a Zoom meeting calls for some ingenuity, at least in an effort to make this film a tad more memorable, relatable and fun as a quickie horror flick that plays around the creepy voyeuristic factor of the horror "Screenlife" approach. 

Best watched with a pair of headphones on and with the lights off, Host has the right amount of unnerving content and engaging character to make it slightly more than just another footage horror flick. As cheap and easy as it can be at times, it has its occasions that guarantee goosebumps and a good watch.  

1 male dropped dead from a ceiling
1 female killed, method unknown
1 female beaten to death against desktop
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male set on fire
1 female tossed from a window, crashes into a table
2 females attacked, presumably killed
Total: 8

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Head Hunt Island: Lighthouse (1999)

Lighthouse (United Kingdom, 1999) (AKA "Dead of Night")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: James Purefoy, Rachel Shelley, Christopher Adamson

In a prison ship enroute to a Scottish coast, infamous maniac Leo Rook (Christopher Adamson) escapes incarceration by murdering a couple of staffs and hauling himself out in a life boat, rowing to a nearby rocky lighthouse isle. There, he wastes no time putting his trusted machete to bloody use, snuffing out the keepers and disabling the lighthouse's beacon which, in turn, leads to the same prison ship to crash and sink.

Surviving the ordeal is a small band of petty criminals, guards and shrinks, one of them happens to have an extensive interest on Rook's brand of psychopathy for reasons to be revealed. It isn't too long before the poor lads (and lady) figure out something's off about the isle, especially when they start to thin down in numbers, snuffed out one-by-one with their heads missing and collected.

Story-wise, Lighthouse is barely a complex run; it's your routine hack-and-stab plotting in which people are finding ways how to escape their predicament only to fall into the blade of our killer. But what it lacks in big twists and turns is made up for its direction, particularly within its generous abundance of suspense scenes and stylized visuals, thus giving this film quite an impressive stance.

There are more than one occasion wherein the movie plays around with its scares and kills, shooting at odd angles, prolonging scenes and muting all noises and/or colors to justify the intensity of its set pieces. Best examples of this work include a claustrophobic loo horror as a guard tries to hide from the killer in a toilet stall as the latter inspects the room, and another involving an excruciatingly troublesome moment when a poor lad has to take drastic measures to free himself from a dead weight, continued further as he pleads for anyone at the other side of a door to let him in as the killer approaches by the second. Often perfectly timed and interestingly shot, the resulting attacks and/or murders are always a grand to watch, in turn.

The bloodletting accompanying these scenes may be far off your typical gore geysers, but they are still savage enough to feel the weight and impact of each machete fall, especially when the resulting bloodshed are done with full fairly gruesome practical effects and a lot of impressive dismembered latex bodies soaked in red stuff. The killer committing the spree also has a good deal of menace to them; mostly cloaked in shadows and barely uttering a word, Adamson made an effective human monster out of Rook, with his sick fascination for hoarding heads and the casual approach to his slayings.

If there will be any drawbacks I can point out regarding Lighthouse (1999), it would be the fact that the pacing within its first half can get really challenging to sit through. Seeing that the kills are far in between one another around these parts, we're mostly just watching our characters scoping out the isle and lighthouse for something that will get them off the island, not exactly fully aware of the severity of their situation yet. It wasn't until the second half, after a good deal of them already encountering and dying at Rook's hands that the movie picks itself up, rewarding our patience with a quicker pace and a spectacular finale.

The film's budget restraints also meant some shoddy acting and early day CG effects here and there, but it's not like these are some big tainting dreck that ruins the rest of the movie. Lighthouse (1999) is still a decent catch of a film, one that boasts an impressive production and genuinely creepy atmosphere. Yes, it's lacking a deeper plot and it can get a while before most of the action happens, but the overall final product is an underrated Euro-slasher with a slice of art house sensibilities, one that might fancy a viewing from a good horror fan.

1 male had his neck crushed with a length of chain
1 female had her neck snapped
1 male had his throat cut with a machete
1 male killed off screen
A number of individuals killed in shipwreck
1 male had his neck sliced through with a machete, head torn off
1 male killed with a machete
1 male killed offscreen
1 female had her throat repeatedly cut with a knife (flashback)
1 male set on fire
1 male falls unto a rock, brained
1 male found decapitated
1 male stabbed in the gut with a machete, bled to death
1 male gets a flare shoved into his mouth, caught in an explosion
Total: 13+

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

I Am He That Liveth, And Was Dead: Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Random Acts of Violence (2019)
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel 

For a long time, indie comic artist Todd Walker (Jesse Williams) has been making a decent living off his series Slasherman, which chronicles the savagery committed by a welding masked maniac, based on the (in-universe) real life serial killings of six that took place between the late 80s to the early 90s. This success, however, isn't doing much for Todd anymore as he's starting to find the work too much for his mind to bear any further, thus he plans to end the series with one last issue, given he gets past his own case of writer's block. 

In hopes of helping Walker find a strong finale for Slasherman's story, friend and publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel, who also directed and a part of the writers of this movie) comes up with the idea of holding a press tour in the very town where the murders took place, a controversially bold move that may inspire the struggling artist to dish out one more carnal book to end all carnal books. Tagging along is Todd’s aspiring artist assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and Todd’s writer girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), who is doing a book about the real life Slasherman’s victims, all of them unaware that the trip's bound for the worst when someone who's obsessed over Slasherman comics starts enacting a killing spree around the same town, inspired by the books' violence.

Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same title by Image Comics, Random Acts of Violence tackles the old arguments of violence in media and exploiting real world horrors for entertainment, which would have been a relevant and insightful topic for a slasher movie to grasp, if only it knows what grounds of the criticism it'll focus on or, at least, build around a fair and strong argument concerning the thoughts. For a good while, the writing and direction of Violence offer scenes of Williams' character being put under fire for creating such violent comics in understandable concern, countered by Walker sharing his own beliefs that media is not always responsible for the creation of sickos, that art is just art and what society’s vile deviants do with it is their own doing. These are again very compelling debates, but by the time we hit the hour mark, the movie shifts its gears to regular exploitation bloodlettings many slashers are known for, ditching the all the argumentative build-up for something cliched, littered with one big plot hole (so big it's kinda amazing) and, yes, chunky red violence. 

Perhaps that's the main idea of the whole movie, that whichever side of the coin you stand on, you will eventually see its shade of imperfections once it's flipped against you. That behind every sense of order and control is raw chaos that inspires it. Whether this is the case or not completely falls into the audience's perspective, but one thing is certain and that's the straight horror elements of Violence are mostly top notch.

There's an atmosphere of near-realism in this movie's early dose of killings, with set-pieces intensely building up to murders that interestingly doesn't shower the movie with much onscreen bodycounting despite the decent number of victims and how brutal they can get. Among the slayings are bloody stabbings, beheadings, eviscarations and, most disturbing of them all, a family massacre, all of which executed in a manner that disparagingly implies their graphic nature without mostly glorify it, leaving us viewers nothing but our imagination to fill in the gaps as the screen cuts to black, or we see our protagonists' faces twist in terror. Tinted lighting and sound design also play a pretty big role in the film's horror scenes and Violence's giallo-inspired cinematography and editing got it covered on that department well enough, especially around the plot's first trio of murders and its artsy climactic reveal.

On note to the movie's twist, Violence, again, drops off the semi-serious tone in time and appears to cheapen its way into the finale by basically pulling a Happy Birthday To Me (1981) - style revelation on us, complete with victims' bodies arranged into sitting on chairs while the villain gives their delusional expositions as to why they're doing this, hammering down the details so we'd definitely understand their point. Admittedly, it is a fun reveal and in par to all the other ridiculously cheesy slasher motivations, dare I say it's pretty unique in the sense the killer's willing to die for the sake of what they believe is the ultimate fanboy move. This may sound like the killer stepping down from a creepily random Bible verse-spewing psycho to a serial killer with a comic book obsession but, by all means, it's not all the way bad. The talent behind the killer even pulls it off quite effectively.

It's clear as crystal that Jay Baruchel wrote and directed Random Acts of Violence as a possible in-depth look into horror media and its relationship with real life tragedies as both an influence and the influenced, doubled as a slasher movie of the partial-meta kind. Should the story kept its focus more on the psychological and ethical aspects touched by the plot, I'm sure Violence would have been an entirely different monster to be reckoned with. But for what it is right now, it's not gonna win every horror fan out there, but I'm sure there are an appreciative bunch out there who will love it for the thrills, the spills and the chills.

1 male knifed to death, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female killed offcamera, later found mutilated and arranged as a macabre art piece
1 female had her neck snapped, later found decapitated
1 male shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 female shot dead
1 boy shot dead (mostly offcamera)
1 male shot on the head with an automatic rifle
1 female hacked on the head with a carving knife, gutted (flashback)
1 female found gutted
1 male repeatedly stabbed with a hunting knife, throat cut
1 male burned to death inside a blazing house
Total: 12

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Girl And Her Family's Death Curse: Someone Behind You (2007)

Someone Behind You (Du saram-yida) (South Korea, 2007) (AKA "Voices")
Rating: **
Starring: Jin-Seo Yoon, Gi-woong Park, Ki-woo Lee 

Here's a novel idea: a bloodline cursed with death as one family member of a generation gets to be killed by just about anyone close to them, or be the one to kill a fellow family member (or in some cases, members) out of pure spite. Highschool student Kim Ga-in witness this curse in action one fateful day, inflicted upon her aunt on her wedding as she gets pushed off a balcony by her fiance and then later stabbed to death by her own sister whilst recovering at a hospital. Now, it appears that it's Ga-in's turn to be snuffed and she has no choice but to try uncovering the origins of this curse to stop it, or face the murderous rage of her classmates, teachers, friends and even family.

Someone Behind You (2007) has an admittedly unique set-up for a psychological bodycount plot and there are moments where this idea's used to decent effect, particularly the tragic misfortune befalling upon the auntie character and Ga-in's own relentless attacks at school and at home. Even if we can easily tell where certain scenes are leading to, which are often savage attacks, they play the right amount of paranoiac terror and effectively highlights the violent hopelessness of curse's nature.

Regrettably, nearly everything else in this film is a misfire, from the lackluster characterization of the rest of the casts, to the incomprehensible twists that spoil any good build-up the story has or was having. You can honestly tell this movie wanted to do more than just another long-haired ghost creeper and/or haunted trinket horror, but the grander scale of Someone Behind You (2007) can be described as rather confused and tired, still walking through familiar footings of Asian horror scares while basically threading water and slowly leading way to no actual plot development, whatsoever. It's quite disappointing as the first half of its run has all of its chaos structured to escalate with all the right tropes, trappings and violent assaults, only to be followed by a direction that's grasping at straws and hoping whatever sticks stick, even if it doesn't add up or it feels like it came out of nowhere. It raises questions with answers that are more or less non-existent, replaced by twists that's unnecessarily convoluted as it is hardly subtle.

If there's anything else I could praise Someone Behind You (2007) for, it's the decent enough production quality that makes the movie looking a bit more worthwhile than your average B-flick shlocker. Unfortunately, if almost everything else in this movie couldn't ground itself to actual course and purpose, then it's lacking a point and that frustrates me. Still, its grittiness may still appeal for some so I cannot easily dismiss this as garbage, but it's certainly not for everyone.

1 female seen knifed on the neck
1 female stabbed to death with an IV catheter
1 male knifed to death (dream/flashback)
1 female thrown to an incoming bus (flashback)
1 elderly male hanged 
1 male found with throat cut
1 female found stabbed to death
1 male and 1 female burned to death (flashback)
1 male impaled with a rapier, hunting knife to the back
1 female knifed on the gut
1 female knifed on the chest
Total: 12