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Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Haunting of Alice D Review

In which no Alice D's or anyone else really, for that matter, are haunted very much.

I would like nothing more than to sing the praises of The Haunting of Alice D. Made by an up and coming, multi-hyphenated, female horror director (of which there are far too few), Jessica Sonneborn, shot in an occasionally interesting and different way by cinematographer Eric Latek and featuring a small but awesome performance by Kane "His Name Was Jason" Hodder, there are definite elements about the film that I would love to support.

Even if I was to blame the illogical name of the movie and the poster image on the distributers desperately trying to capitalise on the never ending line of tedious 'Haunting' movies, that have plagued us horror fans over the last decade, I still couldn't forgive the movie for just being dull.

I have tried to see this as more of an "art-house" horror but even as a character study, or an indictment of the history of male abuse, or a comment on horror's objectification of women, or anything at all, it just fails, unfortunately. What substance it may think it has was lost on me amongst a see of unlikeable, thinly drawn, caricatures and supposedly difficult or horrific sequences that didn't have the strength of their convictions. By the rushed, inexplicable, confusing, sudden and nothing ending I was absolutely numb.

The plot, such as it is, concerns an old house, once a brothel, in which young Alice D was sold, used and abused by fat, old, ugly, despicable white men. Cut forward a hundred years or more and the relation of the man who used to run the brothel, an obnoxious, unredeemable, egocentric, arrogant and unlikable bro-dude ass-clown, is hosting the least exciting party since your smelly Uncle Harold invited the family around to look at slides of that week's toenail clippings.

Him, his horribly unpleasant friends, some token prostitutes, a woman who's there by mistake (because she just needs the money) and the token 'nice guy in a bad pack' proceed to wander aimlessly around the house, occasionally making out in the most unpleasant and noisy ways and talking about nothing at all. These vapid, vain, vacant and unforgivably bland crew have so little to offer anyone, most of all the audience, that watching their behaviour should be treatment for insomnia. It was like one long, tedious episode of Entourage without a script or the occasional outburst from Matt Dillon's, less talented, younger brother.

Into this unbearable banality comes Alice D's ghost, who does very little for the majority of the running time except occasionally show up in a white dress and goth make up to hide behind a pillar or shut the odd door. It's mildly more interesting than one of those 'Paranormal Activity' movies, that make me want to severe my retinas and slam my head into a cartoonishly large anvil with boredom, but saying that is like saying watching coloured paint dry is mildly more interesting than watching white paint dry.

By the time Alice D's ghost does anything that could be considered at all interesting or shocking, it is in the last 5 minutes of the film and despite being too quick and too confusing, it is, at the very least, something. It's not scary exactly and would certainly be more satisfying if I understood anything that was going on, but it's effective in its own way.

Then it ends.

Just as it begins, it ends and not with a bang, a whimper, or even a muffled fart but with a blank screen and the credits rolling. You might then spend time trying to decipher what you just watched but sadly you weren't encouraged to care at all and instead you press stop, sigh and go about your evening. I am sorry to say that the film is so unaffecting that it didn't even confuse or bother me sufficiently that it just ended. There have been episodes of crappy ABC Network procedurals that have left me frustrated for hours because I missed something or because the plot seemed confusing but, sadly, The Haunting of Alice D didn't even engage me enough to the point of caring.

I'd, usually, be more than willing to accept that this is somehow all my fault and I didn't fully understand the film and its complexities but the job of a filmmaker is to communicate and successfully translate the script to an audience, via the actors, set decorator, cinematographer etc. so unless I am just stupid, which I don't think I am, that job just wasn't achieved.

I said, at the beginning of this review, that the cinematography had its moments. Well it did! It was high contrast, fairly grainy and had some interesting focus points but it was at least something different than I'd seen before. I read a review criticising it but of all the things I took away from this film that were positive, it was contained within Kane Hodder and the look of the piece.

The sound was atrocious, though, amateurishly picking up shoes clomping noisily along wooden, creaky floors and lips smacking during kissing scenes that sounded like someone blowing up a rubber raft with their highly greased buttocks but that had difficulty picking out actual dialogue. Also I don't remember a single thing about the score, if there even is one.

I don't like to tear a film down and it is not my habit to be an angry, nerd blogger railing against films he'd have no talent or ability to make himself but, unfortunately, in this case, I had no other choice.

The Zero Boys & Hired to Kill - A Nico Mastorakis Double Bill - Arrow Blu Ray Review

Nico Mastorakis has had a fascinating life. If you ever get the chance, look into it a lot deeper than we have time or space to do so today. He's Greek and throughout his career he has been a Journalist, photographer, music producer, concert promoter, radio personality, TV creator, TV station owner and ultimately 80s and 90s cinematic schlockmeister.

Arrow Video has released three titles by Mastorakis this year:
The first was Island of Death, which is notorious for content that has been deemed "shocking" but, for me, just seemed to be a tedious and, fairly unimaginative, story about two holiday makers on a Greek island who just went around pushing the bounds of usual decency. It wasn't my kind of film, way too shocking just for the sake of being shocking and pretty dull along with it.

Luckily, as his career moved on, Mastorakis seemed to move away from just pure exploitation and turn more to high concept horrors, thrillers and action films that always blur the genres together, while also heaping on some joyously confused surreal elements.

The second film is The Zero Boys which I had never heard of but instantly wondered, why have I never heard of this film?

Release Date: 25th April 2016
Format: Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD
Starring: Kelli Maroney, Daniel Hirsch, Nicole Rio
Directed by: Nico Mastorakis

Starring kick ass, genre star, "Scream Queen" of the day Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall), with an appearance by Martin Sheen's younger brother Joe Estevez and featuring an early and enjoyable score from the legendary Hans Zimmer (Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy), The Zero Boys' high concept can be summed up in one sentence - A young group of survival game enthusiasts come head to head with crazy murderers in a cabin in the woods.

Part slasher part Rambo, The Zero Boys is a simple but fun and, in parts, effectively scary genre mash-up that benefits from some strong camera work and impressive production values despite the, probably, low budget.

The film is paced well, lit well, shot well and even acted pretty effectively by a cast of largely lesser knowns or unknowns. What you realise, however, watching any film that's meant to feature young people but is clearly written by middle aged men, is the dialogue, especially earlier in the film is awful. The sequences where we are meant to be getting to know the characters, before the plot begins to play out, the conversations are pretty awkward and stilted.

The other trait that is common to all the Mastorakis films I have seen so far is that explanations of either who people are and why the stuff that's happening is happening to them, is not important. Not that it entirely matters. I summed the plot up in a sentence and the film is pretty good, for what it is, definitely one I'll put in again and again, but the first act of any Mastorakis movie is a little like an easy jigsaw puzzle: Just because it only has a handful of pieces, it still takes a little time to get to the whole picture.

I really enjoyed The Zero Boys, it is right up my street. It has a strong set up, a decent execution and doesn't waste time with a lot of extraneous, unneeded waffle. There's some kids with guns, a couple of mental hillbilly types with machetes, arrows and booby traps and in the end we'll see who's left.
It's well worth a watch.

The first thing to say is the film looks and sounds fantastic. Apart from a little grain in the lower light scenes, the image quality is superb.
The extras are pretty strong too. The interviews are short but informative and it's great to see how Arrow go out of their way to get some of the cast and Mastorakis himself back for a chat.
I didn't get round to listening to the commentary but from just a couple of the stories Kelli Maroney tells in her interview, I bet it's fascinating.

- Brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with star Kelli Maroney, moderated by Shock Till You Drop’s Chris Alexander
- Nico Mastorakis on… Nico Mastorakis – brand new interview with Mastorakis on the making of   The Zero Boysb
- Brand new interview with star Kelli Maroney
- Brand new interview with star Nicole Rio
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Stills Gallery
-Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver

Region: Free
Rating: 18 TBC
Cat No: FCD1259
Duration: 89 mins
Language: English
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Stereo 2.0
Discs: 2

Release Date: 16th May 2016
Format: Blu-Ray & DVD
Starring: Brian Thompson, George Kennedy, Oliver Reed

Directed by: Nico Mastorakis and Peter Rader

Hired to Kill, again, has a very simple, high concept, premise. A lone mercenary (Brian Thompson) must put together a team of kick ass women, pretend to be a fashion designer and his models, to try and free a famous rebel leader and, in the process, take down an evil dictator/leader (Oliver Reed) in South America.

It's generic 80s/90s action plot #43.

The thrill of this film should be seeing the ridiculously faced and muscular Brian Thompson take the heroic lead for once and show off his skills. Add to that seven women with special action talents, Oliver Reed wandering around twirling his ludicrous moustache and rolling his eyes and a few explosions, this film really should be a marvelous time for all. Why then is it so desperately dull?

All the elements are there but instead of focusing on the action, presumably because of the budget or the fact that the actors themselves couldn't really do a lot of their own action, the film instead focuses on the developing of Thompson and his female mercenaries pretending to be fashionistas. Which is just ludicrous. What little pleasure there is watching Brian Thompson, who has a face like enraged boar jostling for space in small rubber glove, camping it up and swishing about soon wears thin as a third and fourth photo shoot montage comes around.

When not absurdly trying to convince Oliver Reed he's anything but a man sent there to bite small animals in half and/or punch through drywall with his genitals, Brian Thompson and his group of action ladies are being called upon to act and deliver dialogue. This is another big mistake the film makes. That's not to say Thompson couldn't be good, given the right part, but his one liners are weaker than the straps on one of the model's swimwear and any expository dialogue he's given is more wooden than King Arthur's several attempts to finally get a round table right without power tools and equally as tedious a process.

In parts this movie plays like an Andy Sidaris picture without the low rent Benny Hillisms and the surreal flights of fancy (more's the pity).

It does, however, have some redeeming features. The reveal of Brian Thompson's character and his treatment of an alarm clock is a joy, an early, ridiculous training montage is pretty special and the action finale has its enjoyable moments. Unlike The Zero Boys though, I don't think Mastorakis got the balance right here.

The film, again, looks excellent, with good colours and little to no grain. The sound is also excellent.
The only extra I had time to watch was the interview with Brian Thompson which is wonderful. Similar to the people we get to interview here on the site, extras like this really give you the chance to see interviews with actors that don't normally get the limelight. They often have much better stories and a far more in-depth insight into the business than the A Listers, quite frankly.

- Brand new 2K restoration of the film, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Stereo audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with editor Barry Zetlin
- Hired to Direct – a brand new interview with director Nico Mastorakis on the making of Hired to Kill
- Undercover Mercenary – a brand new interview with star Brian Thompson
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Stills Gallery
- Original Freedom or Death Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic James Oliver

Cat No: FCD1301
Duration: 91 mins
Language: English
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio:1.85:1
Audio:Stereo 2.0

For me The Zero Boys remains the best purchase out of the three Nico Mastorakis films currently on offer from Arrow. I really hope they do a special edition of Nightmare at Noon/Death Street USA, my personal favourite but if you're a genre film fan then I would say The Zero Boys is the one for you. Hired to Kill is a curiosity that sadly doesn't live up to its potential. It's really for completetists of 80s and 90s action cinema only.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

A Bloke Down the Pub Talks to You About Hammer Films - Evening Eleven – The Curse of the Werewolf

In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his eleventh review he's feeling downright sorry for Oliver Reed's tragic wolf man in The Curse of the Werewolf, from 1961... Enjoy!

Let’s face it, the one thing you’re worried about when you’re watching an old werewolf movie is ‘Right, so how crap is this werewolf going to look then?’ We’ve all spent whole films waiting for the monster to appear, but as soon as it does you realise why they made you wait - because all they have to show you is a rubbish werewolf. And so you look back fondly at the suspense you used to feel about the monster when they were just claws and a shadow.

But in Curse of the Werewolf, you end up not wanting to see the werewolf clearly because you don’t want it to be Oliver Reed. I mean, of course it’s Oliver Reed - it’s Oliver bloody Reed for a start - but we’ve also seen him turn into a werewolf when he’s a kid, and even his adopted parents know he’s a werewolf; and yet somehow you end up hoping against hope that it isn’t old Olly but maybe some other Spanish werewolf who’d done all the murdering and whatnot, and Olly still has time to save the day. So when you do finally see the werewolf’s face you don’t think ‘Bah! What a crap werewolf!’ because it isn’t, it’s just heart-breaking. There he is, the poor kid whose whole life you’ve been following, doomed from the moment Q from James Bond couldn’t get a beggar to bugger off at the beginning of the movie. And the make-up is good too! I mean be fair, this is the sixties, but he does look like a proper werewolf, best werewolf I ever saw anyway. Course, I was a little biased, because by the time it came to the climax I was rooting for something to go the poor werewolf’s way.

And what a climax! I mean, I’ve seen plenty of memorable horror film scenes, but the final minutes of Curse of the Werewolf where Oliver Reed is scrambling over the rooftops of the village while not so much being chased by a torch-wielding mob but more sort of followed, encircled, trapped, is a scene that reminded me why I love old horror movies. It’s a proper old fashioned spectacle, you know what I mean? The sort of thing that a movie builds to. The pointless desperation of this poor animal as it clambers over roofs while people (who will probably be a little bit ashamed of themselves for reasons they can’t quite put their fingers on next morning) gawp and yell and wave their torches. And the movie builds to it not just because it looks so great, but because it’s the final scene of a tragedy; the tragedy of a poor kid who never stood a chance.

And it is very tragic, your werewolf mythology, a curse passed from victim to victim that has to end in death. It’s such a solitary monster too - Dracula has his women, Frankenstein’s monster has his creator, even the Mummy has a true love to protect. But what has a werewolf got, eh? Only the knowledge that not only will this definitely end badly, but also that along the way his whole personality will be eaten alive, as will quite a few people he cares about. But in Curse of the Werewolf, it’s even worse than that. He doesn’t even get a normal life to lose. He isn’t bitten because he didn’t listen, or because some gypsy got grumpy, he isn’t even bitten! He’s born a bloody werewolf! Because a beggar was turned inhuman by a cruel rich tyrant. A brilliantly nasty piece of work who locks the beggar up and just forgets about him; and I mean for decades. And then the only person who ever cared for the beggar, the mute jailer’s daughter, gets thrown into the cell with him because she won’t be the tyrant’s toy. And the beggar, his sanity stolen away by the dungeon leaving nothing but animal instinct, does what the tyrant couldn’t. And these are the poor kid’s parents, this is how the werewolf is born. Of course, a silly sod of a priest turns up later and talks some rot about how demons enter a human as it’s being born, on the odd occasion. But you think, balls; that’s what you think - BALLS. The Church has a long history of misinterpreting metaphors in my opinion and this time is no damn different. The monster was born because the monster was made - I mean, look at that backstory. And even though, fair enough, the priest is right when he says true love can keep the curse at bay, how long can that last really? I mean, couples fight, right? The first time they have a row, what? He’s going to jump out of the window and eat somebody? Doesn’t seem a very tenable relationship does it? It’s probably best if she does end up with the rich pillock, forever mourning the loss of a good monster who never had a chance. Even if he did eat people, he was always nice to her after all. Yeah, you can’t help but fall for a movie where love doesn’t conquer all. It can overcome many things that’s for sure, but a torch-wielding mob with legitimate grounds for fear, anger and revenge is not one of them. In the end, it can’t change what life has done to you, it can only make you feel a bit better. And for some poor werewolves that isn’t enough.

So let’s raise a glass to the werewolves. And to a movie that blows a raspberry at love as an answer, and creates such an awesome, in the old-fashioned sense of the word mind you, climax. And there’s plenty else to love in the movie too, including what I am pretty sure is the earliest historical ultimatum of ‘24 hours’ from a Mayor, totally brilliant lettering of the titles at the beginning, and a top bit of jilted fiancee reaction upon finding out his betrothed is off with Olly where he utters ‘get away!’ like a barmaid from Coronation Street. And of course Oliver Reed plays Hammer’s werewolf; one of those facts that after you learn it you can’t imagine the answer could ever have been anything else. Fair enough, it drags a little in the middle - but with a beginning and ending like this, we can forgive them that. One thing’s for sure, there’s enough to raise a glass to. Speaking of which...
Another pint?
The bloke down the pub is always three sheets to the wind, has the crumbs from an old pork pie on his lapel and smells of pipe tobacco and pickled eggs but he knows his Hammer movies and he wants to share his thoughts.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Horde Review & Interview

The Horde is to be applauded. Applaud The Horde.

Pause for applause.

"Why is it to be applauded?!" I hear you cry, well, there are many reasons.

The film, very simply, is about a teacher and her high school? college? photography class taking a trip into the woods with her ex-navy, ass kicking fiancé.

On the way they meet Don "The Dragon" Wilson for a "what the what?!" cameo and get in trouble with a bar room full of rapey hillbillies. The muscle bound, martial artist fiancé (and screenwriter of the film, Paul Logan) dispatches said ruffian bumpkins with some sweet action moves and they head on to the picturesque woodland.

Once there they find out the woods aren't as serene or empty as they first appear and the camp is set upon by a marauding horde of mutants and criminals.

It's up to, the adequately action-named, John Crenshaw (Paul Logan) to go all Rambo Commando on their buttocks, armed only with his, handily packed, crossbow, complete with flaming arrows, save his girl and anyone else who might be left alive. If only his hippy dippy, arty farty lady had let him pack his pistol, yeah?!

If you had to pitch The Horde to your genre loving friends in a sentence then it would be "Rambo versus The Hills Have Eyes" or "John Matrix versus the Wrong Turn inbreds"

It's not unlike the early Josh Becker/Bruce Campbell/Sheldon Lettich collaborations of Stryker's War and Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except where the idea was "The Military vs The Manson Family"

Ever since Tarantino & Rodriguez's Grindhouse and The Room, unimaginative indie filmmakers have strived to either make some exploitation nonsense with no real effort behind it, that they then bleach out the color of and bathe in digital scratches and cigarette burns (as if this passes for filmmaking) or they achingly try to be so ironically hip and awful, praying that their film is either just good enough to become a cult midnight movie drinking-game or cheesy and bad enough that they find an audience of hipsters who will laugh AT the film rather than WITH it. These usually feature a pop star we all hated from the 80s (who now, inexplicably, has a rose tinted following) fighting a CGI lizard while out-dated references pass for quippy one liners.

Luckily and thankfully The Horde is not really either of these things. It feels like a film made by genre film fans for genre film fans. It skirts around the edges of being knowing, having cinematic frames of reference and certainly aiming to attract the midnight crowd but not only is it apparent, from the fight set pieces to the practical special effects, that a huge amount of dedicated work and craftsmanship has been put into making it but it's also having immense fun just being an entertaining, adult, tearaway, violent, gory romp.

When I first put the film on I had no idea what I was in for. I assumed it was going to be just another zombie film, probably because of the french film of the same name. In fact, the name of the movie could've been given a little rethink, not just because it is a familiar name of other films and a computer game but also because it doesn't sit completely right, for me, with what happens in the movie (but that's a small nitpick).

Initially the film was reminiscent of some of the later entries in the Friday 13th franchise. The early slasher kill sequence, the set up of the cliche youthful characters, the purposefully weak innuendoes about sex, the improbable excuse to go into the woods in the middle of nowhere, the forced dialogue etc. Have to admit, it had me a little cautious that this was going to be a difficult movie to get through. Remember, I had no idea what the film was about or what was about to happen. I also need to indicate that if you're an 80s horror fan, you'll be no stranger to this type of dialogue.

It wasn't till we got to the Don Wilson cameo, followed by the barroom brawl, and meatheads were taking flying kicks to the face that I sat up and thought, "wow, what was that, that was different. Ok then, I'm intrigued, let's see where this is going"

I am a huge 80s and 90s action fan and also a huge 80s horror fan and so what happened next appealed to me greatly, especially once the night-time rollercoaster of carnage and mayhem got underway.
The main cast of the kids and the teacher are a mixture of newcomers and up and comers. They all handle themselves fine. Two of them aren't given much to do but make out and talk about making out, but that's sort of to be expected, two of them have a little more to do as they seem on the brink of a relationship but are also a little more down to earth, nervous and normal teens.

Sydney Sweeney, whose part gets considerably more challenging as the film goes on, does well with the softer, sweeter dialogue in the earlier part of the film and her small scene with Tiffany Brouwer is a stand out before everything gets dark and nasty.

I am not sure if being affectively annoying and punchable is something to be praised but Thomas Ochoa, with the equally punchable character name of Riley St. Claire, is highly successful as the spoilt, rich daddy's boy who doesn't have a kind word to say about anyone and who can't stop gassing on about all his money. It's quite timely really as he is like a skinny, young, dark haired, effeminate Donald Trump.

Rounding out the main cast is our hero, the aforementioned, Paul Logan. He wrote the film, produced it, stars in it and did the fight choreography. That's very, very impressive and I doubt the man had much sleep. Doing multiple jobs like that on a lower budget movie means long days, short nights and not much sitting down. His fighting style is watchable and accomplished. I felt it could've been served better with a different shooting style and slightly better editing but it definitely got the point across and made for some entertaining rumbles. There were also a handful of hints and nods at the likes of Rambo and Commando which, I actually thought, weren't needed as the set up of the homage was already implied. They didn't hurt the film though and, I suppose, they give good WHOO HOO moments of recognition for the audience.

For those in the know, the supporting cast is a who's who of action and horror stalwarts that are having a wonderful time chewing the scenery and tearing up the screen.

There's the imposing and awesome Matthew Willig (Wild Card, We're The Millers), one of the hardest working men in horror, Bill Moseley (Everything from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Army of Darkness to The Devil's Rejects and Repo! The Genetic Opera), Costas Mandylor (known to most for his appearances in the Saw franchise but I love him in Fist of the North Star), the incredible and iconic Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Commando) who I had the pleasure of interviewing about The Horde and his whole career and finally Nestor Serrano (Who has been in everything, but key movies and TV include Lethal Weapon 2, Bad Boys and 24).

This isn't just stunt casting either. Each of the above dive into the roles seriously and with relish, fleshing out the hellish and gruesome world our hero finds himself in.

Stream our Vernon Wells interview below

The last thing to be said on The Horde, which I hinted at earlier, is just how refreshing it was to see an indie genre movie of this kind use real make-up effects, proper design, lighting and set dressing, great stunts, martial arts and so on. A lot of modern films lack that authenticity and it always makes a movie, in my view, when I can see strange, wonderful and creative ideas, designs and effects on the screen.

Stand out sequences to me were the bar-room take-down, the slow build, beautifully lit, vile, bloody and sadistically joyous Vernon Wells/The Butcher sequence and any moment that flaming arrows or flying kicks were being delivered to some mutants ugly face.

There is one weird, exploitation scene which has the intended effect of being difficult and disturbing but also featured a half man/half tree mutant. I wasn't sure if this was a sideways nod to The Evil Dead or just some mad, Troma induced, fever dream of the filmmakers but either way it wasn't something I was expecting in any way. The mix of mental, strange-as-bollocks, fantasy and standard-genre-action was certainly jarring, which means The Horde will definitely stick in the memory long after you've turned it off.

The movie has just about a little bit of everything. It is violent, gruesome, gory, disgusting, sexy, fun, enjoyable, weird, surreal and action packed. A B-Movie in every sense of the word. With a more dynamic director and a snappier, tighter edit this film could really be a new cult favourite. As it stands it is a valiant effort, with some highly enjoyable ideas and moments, practical effects and stunts galore. I'd watch a sequel.

Watch the trailer here:

Rent or Buy and watch the full film here:

Also available on iTunes and Google Play

Friday, 6 May 2016

Regression Review & Interview

In the 1980s, or so we are reliably informed by this film (which is, apparently, influenced by real events), there was a lot of Satan worship going on in the ol' U.S. of A. and you couldn't turn on the TV without hearing some group panicking about them.
Who are satanists? What do they eat? What music do satanists listen to? Does the Dark Lord validate parking? that kind of thing...
The story is set in 1990, in a small Minnesotan town, in this highly charged and paranoid environment. Detective Bruce Kenner (played wonderfully by Ethan Hawke) gets across his desk the sort of case nobody wants. Angela (Emma Watson doing a fairly decent American accent), who is now currently living at a church and being cared for by the priest and the nuns, is accusing her father, John Gray, of child molestation. A psychiatrist (the always welcome David Thewlis) is brought in to assist with the investigation as John, who has admitted guilt, is having memory loss and needs hypnosis and regression therapy to unravel what really happened. As the two investigators dig deeper into the clues and psyches of the ones involved, the story starts to expand and unravel to include satanic rituals and fear that may spread far across the country.

On the surface Regression is the stuff of fun, pulp thrillers. A shabby detective, who doesn't play by the rules and lives by his hunch, gets a case that leads him and his psychologist sidekick through a bizarre twist of events where the answers always seem to be just out of reach. Throw in some devil worship hokum, a good dollop of paranoia, a grand conspiracy theory and some social/religious overtones and you have yourself the perfect straight-to-DVD (or streaming) thriller to wile away a rainy Sunday evening.

However, and while the film certainly works on that level well enough, the film is really about the true danger of absolute belief. Whether that's a belief in religion, a certain political ethos, an uneducated or fearful belief on certain social issues, a belief in untested psychology techniques or a belief in conspiracy and rumour. Any abandonment of common sense or your own gut feeling of what's right, basically.

With 24hr news, internet rumours, the rise of the fascist right, the promises of the loony left, religion, bigots, war, social media and you name it, trying to keep your head while all about are losing theirs is getting harder and harder. The greatest trick this movie pulls is lacing just enough throughout its pulpy narrative that, with the right eyes and mind you can see and rejoice in what it says about humanity, society and mass hysteria.

Again, on the surface, you could simply take from the film "weren't all those people crazy for believing in Satanists" or maybe "wow, isn't it scary how all those people across the country were convinced of these Satanic practices" but I think the film actually hits on a universal truth about belief and makes little nods to all sorts of widely held beliefs that could do with some serious reconsidering.

So, while I was left fascinated, thrilled, excited and aching for debate when the credits rolled, because of the ideas explored in the film, even early on I was impressed with the look, feel, script and performances.
I am not a huge Ethan Hawke fan and haven't seen much of his work but his performance in this really impressed me. It was as revelatory as Kevin Bacon's excellently judged performance last year in Cop Car (albeit completely different) and made me want to go back and see Hawke performances I may have missed. He is just the right side of shambling and spooked the whole way through and watching him was a delight.

David Thewlis is wonderful as well and at moments it looked like the two actors were engaging in a hilarious "scruff-off" where they were trying to out do each other in the messy, crumpled stakes. I could watch Thewlis and Hawke trundle about in a car discussing "the nature of influence and suggestion where memory is concerned" for hours.

Emma Watson is slowly becoming a good actress. I remember seeing some early work of Keira Knightley and not being entirely sure but then watching her in the film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and finally seeing her emerge as a strong performer. The same can be said for Regression and Emma Watson. While the ghost of Harry Potter will loom large for a while (especially with the presence of Thewlis, who was in the Prisoner of Azkaban - which now I come to think of it and digress was also directed by a Spaniard), Watson held her own here and played a very complex character without ever revealing all the layers till the right moments. I was suitably impressed.

Rounding out the cast is a wonderful cross section of brilliant character actors, including the marvelous Dale Dickey as the confused, scared and possibly complicit Rose Gray. Always a boost to any cast, Dale is able to convey complexity and character even in people who seem to not have much of either.

I had the pleasure of talking to Dale Dickey about Regression and her career recently.
Find that interview HERE or stream it below.

Lastly, then, the look, feel and direction of the film. Director and writer, Alejandro Amenábar and his director of photography Daniel Aranyó not only have the clearest of focus on how to let the story unravel, what to reveal and when and how to keep the audience guessing. There are the odd sequences which drag a little or feel repetitive but that's a minor quibble really. The film is shrouded in a grey dampness which is sometimes sinister and shadowy and sometimes, quite correctly, mundane and dull. The whole film gave me that feeling you have about 30mins after coming in from a torrential downpour of rain. Not quite cold and wet anymore but not quite dry either. While that may sound like a negative, I loved it and felt that the look and style of the film supported the substance perfectly.

Not to use, at this point in film fandom, an old cliche but a 70s/80s movie vibe like The Changeling or The Omen was definitely the feel I got from it.

The director and cinematographer clearly had fun with the devil worshiping/memory/dream sequences also. It's in these moments of the film where they really cut loose and grimy-horror-film the whole thing up to the max. They keep it just ludicrous but also hideous enough to keep you nailed to the edge of your seat with a mixture of excitement and revulsion.

I can't recommend Regression enough, it was a really pleasant and perfect surprise that hit me in all the right places. In a perfect world it would've had a big release but there were no one dimensional characters in tights hitting each other with magic weapons, so sadly it didn't.

However, the silver lining to this is that it is currently streaming on Amazon for Prime members (see below) and also available on Blu-ray™, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand May 10, 2016. Check it out!

Stream Regression HERE

Buy Regression Blu-Ray/DVD HERE
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