Monday, October 20, 2014

You're Next

            You’re Next is a slasher film that was really popular in festivals like Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest last year; it was not a hit at the box office but is still popular on streaming sites.  It is touted for being a subversive horror film, like Cabin in Woods and Scream, something that turned the horror genre on its head. Having now seen the film myself, it is a fun but underwhelming film.  You’re Next is an undeniably clever film filled with strong twists and a badass lead character but it lacks a real sense of interest it’s own plot. Even with a strong protagonist the film’s dull script diminishes it to a decent horror rental, at best.
            First of all, Sharni Vinson is genuinely wonderful and badass as Erin, the lead character in You’re Next.  The arc of Erin is the foundation of the most fun ideas this film has to offer and Vinson’s nuanced, layered, and funny performance keeps the film grounded. If there is a reason as to why this film is still worth watching, it is to simply watch Erin kick ass. It is shame that the rest of the cast and their characters are not as interesting as what Vinson is doing in this film.
            The cast is not awful; they are just not given much to do beyond killing and dying. Aside from Erin, they either lack presence, backstory, or they are simply unlikable; by the time the slashing begins, their personalities blur into another mob of horror victims.  Yes it seems counterintuitive to say, “people just die pointlessly in horror films” but these characters are more flat than one would expect. Plus, You’re Next is not trying to be just a slasher film but a subversive and comic horror film.  At the halfway point, the film decidedly takes clichés of horror films like “the final girl” and “the unstoppable killer” and spins them into a realistic subtext. The filmmakers clearly know that this genre is artificial and want to make this film look like a realistic incident. Why is it that only the main character acts like a person in house full of clichéd horror characters? That is anybody’s guess. The film overreaches its grasp but at least the subversive bits make for an entertaining second act.  
            You’re Next is not a bad film it is just shallower than expected.  Anyone yearning for the next great horror satire will be sorely disappointed; as just another slasher film, it is well executed.  It has a protagonist that is exponentially better than any character of the same ilk that is played by great newcomer, Sharni Vinson.  Even though the subversive elements are under-utilized they are welcoming in their cleverness. Overall, it is not as audacious as Cabin in the Woods, not as funny as Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil but at least it is not as obnoxious as Scream.

            (You’re Next is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, DVD and Blu-ray)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Double Feature: Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein

             Oh $#!% a double feature! The classic Universal Monsters film series was a cesspool of ghoulish creatures that have charmed the world for the last 80 or so years.  They are historically important to both the horror genre and mainstream cinema but in this era of post-modern horror gimmickry, these films seem to lack the fear factor that most people crave. That being said, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein prove an interesting exception. Sharing themes of humanity’s obsession with death, the ethics of science, and rejection, both films work great as character dramas and as horror and are only enhanced by watching both films in sequence.
            The biggest reason for recommending both is how similar yet different both films are. They play as two halves of a larger story, same characters, themes, and all but tonally they are completely different.  Frankenstein is a stark German Expressionist style horror film with a very direct plot. In contrast, Bride of Frankenstein is a huge yet campy film that blends the same Expressionist horror with comedy, special effects, and Christian symbolism. Bride of Frankenstein is often considered the better of the two films because it expands upon and reinterprets the best ideas of first film whilst adding things that nobody ever expected. Personally, I prefer the original Frankenstein because it has a spookier atmosphere and stronger lead performances.
            There is still that nagging issue about it not being scary, they do not give that adrenaline rush that modern horror films specialize in creating, but that is not necessarily the point of the Frankenstein series.  Horror is a complex genre that can jolt people fear as well as underscore themes; films like Rosemary’s Baby, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and the Frankenstein series are less about sudden shocks and about uttering hard questions and have those questions haunt the audience.  The crux of the horror behind Frankenstein’s Monster is not just that he kills people but that he is the result of a well-intended yet negligent science experiment.  That is not say that Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are humorless art films but they are very clever, spectacular films that have haunting atmosphere and compelling drama.
            Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are all-around wonderful horror films that show that shocking the audience is only one part of the horror genre.  These films are spectacular and macabre melodramas that will baffle and haunt people into delight. Plus at less than 75 minutes each, these films are the perfect length for a double feature at a Halloween party or any late night with friends... or alone with some popcorn, a drink, the devil, and some leftover candy.

            (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is available on Blu-ray and DVD)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Goemul aka The Host (2006)

            So a couple of scientists dump a few hundred bottles of toxic waste into a river, what could possibly happen? According to the South Korean horror The Host, a giant man-eating, plague-spreading, amphibious monster is what happens. The Host is one of those great films where its premise does not do it justice; like Godzilla, the rampaging monster is catalyst for social commentary of the past and present. However, while Godzilla was an intense Cold War allegory, The Host is an eccentric satire about SARS and a... certain western government. Charged with by political anger, dark humor, and despair The Host can feel off-key and incendiary but these elements make for a surprisingly human and fun film.
            The plot of The Host revolves around a narcoleptic oaf and his dysfunctional family as he tries to rescue his daughter from the monster; meanwhile, having to dodge the U.S. and Korean Security, who claim he is infected. Imagine the film as National Lampoon’s Toxic Mutant Vacation and it makes more sense. The leads are basically archetypes but what makes the film really fun is how director Bong Joon-ho plays with the characters emotions through his compositions. It is the one of a few films that has the stones to play up a moment of grief for laughs by simply lingering on the moment for far too long.  It works because these moments seem like normal reactions of the chaotic setting presented to the audience. When faced with a sudden disaster, people become unhinged, confused and scared, which the film reflects impeccably.
            There is some controversy about the film being implicitly “Anti-American,” this is a narrow assumption. The film does joke about U.S. for not caring about the environment and being for nosy in global affairs; granted, the Korean government’s methods for disease control are not portrayed kindly either. In context of the film though, these forces are just a small but loud part of the struggle of the main characters. The goal of The Host is to show how a family can unite and survive in an unusual yet familiar disaster and this SARS/FEMA style of sloppy government finger pointing makes this film perfectly contemporary.
            The Host is a fun monster film that hides its brightest ideas with humor and madness. The characters are peculiar and surprisingly rounded due to the use of cleverly choreographed actions as opposed to unsubtle exposition.  The moments about government are harsh but whether they are important or not depends on the viewer. In a way, The Host is almost a complete contrast to the old Godzilla. Whilst Godzilla is bleak and blatant with its themes, The Host is a very goofy film made with self-assurance.  The Host is a great party film and its themes grow and mature through repeat viewings.  An absolute must see, Halloween or not.

            (The Host is available on Blu-ray/DVD and it is streaming on Netflix. Also, this is not related to the Stephanie Meyer book The Host or the 2013 film adaptation of said book.)