Friday, January 13, 2023

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Himeanole (2016)

Himeanole (2016, Japan)
Rating: ****
Starring: Gô Morita, Gaku Hamada and Aimi Satsukawa

Awkward and hilarious, disturbing and depressing. Yep, not your typical love story...

Starting up pretty light, we follow an uninspired assistant cleaner Okada (Gaku Hamada) as he discovers that his older co-worker Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro) is deeply infatuated with Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress working at a nearby coffee shop. Ando, being the awkward person that he is inside and out, finds it hard building up the courage to tell Yuka how he feels, so he ropes in Okada to help him ease the way to her heart and the two soon learn that the waitress is having a spot of trouble dealing with a stalker. The two guys help Yuka avoid the creep, they became friends and things seem to be heading for the better despite Ando's ulterior motives to win Yuka's heart.

And then Yuka feel in love with Okada. Which the boy did not saw coming but welcomes either way. Not wanting to shatter Ando's fragile state of mind and emotion (and due to threats of being chainsawed to death), however, the young couple decided to date in secret, not knowing that the stalker they were avoiding all this time may have been closer than they imagined and it's only a matter of time before the freak finally loses it...

Curiously, all of this is just the first half of the movie and it is around this time that Himeanole (2016) fittingly opted to play it's credits, making way to the rawer meat and bone of the story. (Yeah, Friday the 13th (2009) has a contender for the longest opening act!) Shifting most of the focus away from Okada, Yuka and Ando, the second half follows the disturbed exploits of one Morita (Gô Morita), Okada's former high school classmate and Yuka's stalker, as he's forced to murder some of the people he's blackmailing after they attacked him in his apartment and then setting everything on fire to hide the evidence. Now wondering aimlessly in the city, Morita stalks, rapes and murders his way into houses, plays pachinko (Japanese arcade machines) for potential earnings and suffer from various flashbacks detailing the bullying he endured during high school which led to his current murderous and monstrous state.

As more people fall victim to Morita's unrelenting brutality and depravity, the closer he gets to reaching both Yuka and Okada, the two people he's aiming to end the most.

Based on the manga Hime-anole by Minoru Furuya, Himeanole (2016) is a weird yet fascinating craft that offers a palette of tone and emotions, navigating from the silly and awkward, to the devious and vile. It toyed with expectations by initially making itself look like an observational comedy drama about two weirdos trying to win the heart of a cute dream girl, a situational gag wherein our trio grows to be likable individuals despite their flaws and oddities, only for it all to twisted into a dark and emotional backlash of betrayals, murders and rapes stemming from a damaged man's trauma and abuse, all of it senseless and shocking.

What works to the film's advantage is its wonderful set of casts playing their roles effectively; Hamada and Tsuyoshi make an odd pair of friends, but both don their characters with a good balance of charm and sympathy that the friendship is endearing in their chemistry despite the troubles they're inadvertently causing to one another. Aimi Satsukawa does a well enough job to be the sweet cute girl any guy would want, which made it easy for us to understand why Ando fell hard for her to begin with. And, of course, we got Gô Morita as, well, Morita, probably the most memorable slice of talent in this number as he played his card as a disturbed serial killer and rapist with a frighteningly realistic angle, so much so that it's awfully conflicting to feel sorry for him even when the story decided to give us flashbacks explaining why he ended up so deep into the muck. All I got to say is when Himeanole (2016) became a horror film, Gô Morita owned it!

Production values of the film is great for most parts; the wide array of scoring branches from the whimsy to the haunting befitting the two faced-tone of the story. Camera work also found a way to play with the shift as it starts out static and focused at the mostly innocent first half to emphasize its calmness before gradually devolving into shaky, hand-held cinematography to show how out of control the second part has become. The minimal use of CG on the killings, too, gave the murders a more savage note, adding further horror to the already nightmarish crime spree. The rapes, thankfully, are toned down to offscreen assaults, though there is that matter of "less is more" being used here as the acts building up to the sexual violence have enough grit and intensity to them that the implications are just as horrifying.

Honestly, Himeanole (2016) is plenty of things; a real test of patience and gut, a say on bullying and guilt, a tour de force on unorthodox direction, all of these despite shuffling about some of the usual horror pitfalls like useless law enforcers and questionable character choices. I strongly recommend this for those who are more adventurous with their horror selections, those seeing to outdo themselves from the usual paint-by-number scares and bloodletting, looking for a real hidden gem to satisfy that urge!

1 male killed offscreen, implied beaten with a baseball bat and strangled to death
1 male stabbed in the neck with a pen, brained with a steel pipe
1 female beaten to death with a steel pipe
3 victims mentioned killed in a burning building
1 female murdered offscreen
1 female found strangled to death with a power chord
1 male knifed to death
1 male had a knife pushed into his chest
1 male shot to death
1 male repeatedly knifed, had his head ran over with a van
Total: 12

Thursday, January 5, 2023

TV Terror: Wreck (2022)

Wreck (2022, United Kingdom TV Series)
Rating: ****
Starring: Jodie Tyack, Oscar Kennedy and Louis Boyer

First few moments of this six-part series? Your classic lady-in-peril act as cruise ship entertainer Pippa Walsh sees herself getting hunted and stalked by a goon dressed up as (get this) a duck in a rain slicker. Running through empty corridors and hiding under stacks of chairs. Pipa soon gets cornered by our quackie killer mascot and, instead of giving the nutjob in full animal suit the satisfaction of knifing her to death, opted to drop herself overboard the ship while flipping the bird at the bird.

One month later, Pippa's younger brother Jamie is hired to work at the same cruise ship, The Sacramentum, taking in the identity of his friend Cormac who, much to Jamie's surprise, has snuck in to the ship as well with hopes of winning back his former lover Rosie. He'd done this to keep his real name a secret and do his own investigation under the staff and guests' noses on what really happened to his sister since he isn't buying the whole "suicide" angle her employers are sticking to. In the midst of this, he befriends a sassy co-worker named Vivian, falls in love with a cute Filipino boy Olly and uncover a possible suspect to Pippa's disappearance within the senior staff.

For the first two episodes, Wreck (2022) runs this course as a slasher comedy as we follow our hapless protagonist through his shipbound misadventures playing amateur detective while juggling varying odd jobs as the cruise's lackeys, as well as finding time to be smitten by a cute crew member who may or may not reciprocate his feelings back, unbeknownst to him that the killer duck mascot will rear their feathery hide again, knife at hand to claim another victim. This time, however, the slain fella happens to be the staff Jamie suspected at the beginning of his little detective work, putting him back all the way to square one.

By the moment the third episode rolls in, the charted course shifts away from stalk-and-stabbing masked killers and more towards a conspiracy level mystery involving Filipino drug smugglers, records of other crew members disappearing over the years and hidden passages to ancient rooms kept for sinister purposes through out the rest of the mini-series, so much so that by the near end of the it all, it is revealed that something bigger than a lone murderous loon is at play. 

The series is certainly a wild ride with its shifting focus and tone, starting out goofy fun with its duck-suited killers running amuck and offing people off a boat, before delving into investigative thrills and criminal chills of hardened dealers and cover-ups, and then ultimately settling back to a horror plot inspired by Eli Roth's Hostel (2005), showcasing a good dose of even more brutal slayings and a decent splash of gore. It could have been a twisty and confusing mess as a whole, but it's mostly kept in good track thanks to its likable, well-rounded barrage of hokey characters and witty script keeping the transition of the story effectively fluid and intriguing.
The kill count is relatively low due to this, but the charm of its casts' heightened antics and its energetic premise of a cruise liner being this isolated, loose cannon scape full of secrets and crooks greatly make up for it, especially when it's done with a gusto of striking camera work and expressive color and lighting. Production, in turn, is one of Wreck's strong points, but there are still a few misfires to be found here, particularly how some of the jokes failed to hit and how the ending cost itself a satisfactory conclusion to its entire whodunnit gig by leaving us with an opening for a follow-up season. 

Still, these are small messes to sit through compared to Wreck's wave of bold appeal and lively atmosphere as a mish-mash horror thriller. It's ostentatiously fun and youthful in its vigor, a fair TV gem for genre fans to binge in a single weekend!

1 male repeatedly knifed, bled to death (S1, E1 - Ship of Dreams)
1 male shot through the head with a harpoon (S1, E3 - Showtime!)
1 female shot with a crossbow, stabbed through with a sword (S1, E5 - Needle in a Gaystack)
1 male repeatedly knifed in the gut (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
1 female gets a chainsaw to the face (S1, E6 - Water off a Duck's Back)
Total: 5

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Short Shear Terror: Happy New Year (2019)

Happy New Year (Thailand, 2019) (Bangkok Dark Tales segment)
Rating: ***
Starring: Yeepun Napat Banchongchitpaisal, Adisorn Tonawanik

As a B-grade horror comedy anthology, Bangkok Dark Tales (2019) mostly comes cheap with its scares and thrills, riding on clichés and popcorn cheesiness to make itself passable enough to at least merit a glance from curious horror fans who could honestly do better. It's composed of three horror shorts taking place in an office, a theater and a rented house, and while the latter two is pretty much a goofy and kooky supernatural affair (with varying levels of god-awful cheddar), the first segment teases a paranormal foe before curving the path towards a familiar slasher plot involving a woman in peril, a madman in a hoodie and a bloody fire axe.

With her productivity dropping, a businesswoman named Gam is forced by her boss to work late overnight during New Year's Eve, her only company in the entire office being two new interns helping her with the workload and one pathetic looking security guard who may have a creepy obsession with her. It also happens to be a few weeks after a colleague of her's, Mr. Suthipong, died from overworking and Gam happens to sit next to the late man's worktable, leading to some chills creeping down on her back and a nightmare or two about Suthipong as the night goes on.

But Gam, as well as the rest of the unlucky shmucks stuck with her that night, will soon find out there's more to fear that night other than delayed paperwork and superstitious scares; an axe-wielding figure wearing Suthipong's Christmas hoodie have made their way into the office and starts stalking and attacking Gam, leaving a trail of murders and unforeseen revelations along the way.

As a short featured in Bangkok Dark Tales (2019)Happy New Year is a promisingly strong opener and undoubtedly the best segment out of the three as it has a good build-up to the carnage and executed its crazy surprises with a decent pace and tone despite dipping into some cheese on occasions. With a good focus on its mystery and thrills, the serious direction towards its plot works wonderfully, something the rest of the shorts failed to do as their balance of horror and comedy lacks any solid idea and bedrock, hence feeling a tad too all over, if not messy at its worst.

Seeing Happy New Year as a slasher short on its own, I do like the EC comics "Tales from The Crypt" vibe it's going for; the matter that our leading girl doesn't strive to be likeable is already setting us up with something we don't usually see in our typical slasher stories. Gam is snobbish and stern, looks down on her underlings despite being an underling herself, the whole short has this foreboding heaviness looming over her as you know damn well something is going to get back at her in the end. And wouldn't you know it, in comes a masked slasher in a red festive hoodie who not only does a real number on her colleagues turning them into gnarly bloodied bodies for her to find, but they even pack a simple yet classic modus that doesn't get too complicated, fitting snugly with all the loose ends, as well as the song and tune of the entire short. 

Granted it's nothing too spectacular, Happy New Year is just this fun little short gem that doesn't dent much of what's already done in a horror story, but is a welcome one nonetheless, especially if it comes bearing spooks, gore and twisted twists!

1 female decapitated with an axe