Quick Hit: What did I just watch?
I am sure that I’ve typed this before, but I’ve fairly active in the film community, at least in a research sense. I am on Twitter (@2featurepreach) quite often, and I like reading other people’s suggestions on different horror films. At one of these points, I came across the suggestion to watch The Evil Within (2017). It stars Sean Patrick Flannery (The Boondock Saints), Frederick Koehler (Death Race, The Circle) and features a horror movie icon in Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes). It was directed by Andrew Getty, but he died during its extremely long production. The film was then put together with pieces of the huge amounts of footage that he shot.
The film follows Dennis, a mentally disabled man who lives with his brother John. His internal monologue starts the film, and we see that there is so much more going on in Dennis’s head than what his verbal abilities allow. He also suffers from intense nightmares. Eventually, John brings a mirror into the home, which begins a cycle of Dennis communicating with himself in the mirror. The mirror Dennis is Legion (yes, from the Bible), and is convincing Dennis to perform horrible deeds. When not portrayed by Koehler, this demonic presence is played by Berryman.
This movie is absolutely off-the wall at times and features some extremely disturbing imagery. I was genuinely freaked out a couple of times, particularly in one opening nightmare that featured someone literally being unzipped and having someone slip inside them like a sleeping bag. This was done with some practical effects, and was devastating. There’s also a person whose eyes get replaced with mouths digitally. It all leads to the dream-like quality of the film, and makes everything get a touch of wrongness.
The camerawork throughout is actually really good, and very inventive. Getty uses mirrors a lot (to reflect the duality of Dennis’s nature) and this creates some extremely trippy effects. It also lends to the aforementioned unreality of it all – one image features Berryman stepping out from behind Dennis’s reflection after being reflected infinitely down a hallway. This is also a fun idea to give the idea of Legion meaning many.
There are, however, some extreme drawbacks to this film. A lot of the script that revolves around John and his girlfriend is terrible. Really, the script feels the need to give John things to do, which includes conversations with a poor psychiatrist. None of these really add anything to the plot – we know he feels guilty and responsible for Dennis from the first moment – just let the man act and stop shoving it down our throats! There’s also some really horrendous, head-scratching moments in dialogue – one ice cream girl literally states people like her because she’s hot, but it’s said so earnestly that you almost miss it. It’s an example of something that probably should have been played for humor, but instead it just lands on deaf ears.
The acting overall is pretty decent, with Koehler getting a chance to really spend a lot of time in several roles. He uses physicality to differentiate his different roles, and it’s a good thing, because the characters are so different throughout. He also makes Dennis appear handicapped without seeming overly limited, which is important in a movie like this. He walks a thin line at times with going too far into the handicap, but for the most part does a good job.
While no one would describe this as a good movie, there are portions of it that are watchable, and the ideas in place are solid. I’m going to give it a “C-“ for its fearsome parts.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit – A short film gets stretched to its limits in this Netflix zombie film.
The zombie genre is at a point where the explosion that happened has started to die off. After the huge success of The Walking Dead, and its subsequent spin offs, and really just all the zombies since they came back hard in the early 2000s, even me, a dedicated horror lover, have had a bit of an overload. Luckily, most talented writers use this as motivation to come up with interesting new ideas. Cargo, a short produced out of Australia, is a great example of using that idea to build a world and present a new and fresh idea. However, I think the movie was probably best presented in that format – a short – because the Netflix film by the same directors feels a bit stretched overall.
Cargo follows a three-person family as the float down a river and attempt to survive a zombie apocalypse. Eventually, they have to trek onto land because of a bite that the wife/mother suffers. A car wreck causes Andy (Martin Freeman) to experience a bite of his own, and he now has 48 hours to deliver his daughter to safety before she turns. Parallel to this we get the story of Thoomi, a young Aborigine that is trying to keep her father, who has already turned, alive. Eventually fate brings these two together, and they must work with each other to survive.
On one level, the movie expands on some things that made the short so very fantastic. The movie grows a world out of its Australian setting, placing the characters into the heart of the Outback and letting that unforgiving territory take center stage at times. I also liked that the zombies have more than just the typical zombie make-up – instead, the design team came up with the idea that the zombies produce a honey-like resin that coats their facial features. It’s a small factor, but it helps to differentiate the movie from others like it.
There are some downsides to the longer adaptation of the story though. We get some typical zombie film clichés, like a character who is more monstrous than the undead themselves. We also get a dark tunnel where are characters must confront their own demons, and a lot of the film revolves a bit around a subplot of the land going back to its original people. I don’t have anything wrong with this – it reminds me a bit of The Girl with all the Gifts actually – but it comes across fairly heavy-handed here.
Make no mistake though, this film completely fits in with the family category I’ve lumped it into. Freeman has some beautiful moments (most likely unscripted) with the little girl(s) playing his daughter, and it’s clear that his character will do whatever it takes to leave her safe. Along with that, Thoomi has her own problems with family, because she disagrees with her people’s take on the apocalypse. But together these character’s realize that family is a concept that transcends colors and ages and can bring people of all kinds together.
Cargo is pretty good, but it isn’t perfect. Overall, I’d like to give it a “B”.
For more on this movie, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit – This monster movie is perfectly crafted with humor and scares amid tensions of reality.
Since the beginning of monster movies (many of which we chronicled last Halloween – check it out if you have time), humans have been doing things to the environment that cause creatures to rise up and hurt us. The Host, which comes to us out of the Korean peninsula, is no different – the movie starts blatantly with an American telling a Korean man to dump hundreds of bottles of formedhyde down the drain that leads to a river. Multiple years later, we meet Park Gang-Doo, our extremely unlikely hero, as well as our monster, an amphibious monster with gaping maw that just wants to eat everyone in sight.
Completely shrugging off some monster movie clichés, director Joon-ho Bong doesn’t hesitate to show us his monster. His monster is a wonderful creation, with aspects to his nature that seem borrowed from real creatures, like tadpoles, as well as from other monster movies, like the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. It also interacts well with his environment, while still managing to hide in the shadows or out of the main focus of the screen at times. It’s a wonderful piece of monster movie filmmaking.
We also have our team of unlikely heroes – the Parks, who are on a mission to rescue their daughter from the monster that takes her in a terrifically shot sequence in the first twenty minutes of the movie. We have the aforementioned Gang-Doo, who seemingly falls asleep everywhere, and just tries to be the best father that he can be. We have his father, and his brother and sister, and each of them have their own demons to face. But their bickering leads some comedy to the movie which balances well with the tones of the rest of the film.
I think what The Host does well is another thing that is consistently present in monster films is apprehension or fear about things that humanity is currently doing. First, there’s the pollution aspect. Next, the film continually comes back to newscasters that are completely clueless, so there is some obvious media tension here. And finally, something you consistently see in foreign films, there is a fear of American’s and their decisions. While so many people in our politically charged climate are setting out their feelings on social media, films like these are a format to portray fear of American military or Environmental practices.
All in all, The Host is one of those monster movies that is pretty fun from start to finish. I would recommend that you take it and watch it this Halloween. I’m giving it an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"