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The Old Ways

Just be
During a trip back to her Mexican roots a troubled journalist finds herself chained up in a hovel after collapsing in a mysterious cave. Then a witchdoctor enters the room ...

Superior pyschic journey that mixes literal events with the inner struggle just right, using the form of an exorcism to explore deep emotions. And it manages to be upbeat amid all the frights and demonic manifestations, but without the touches of humour becoming cheesy or tongue in cheek.

The production is top quality - performances, editing and pace, the cinematography and sets. Plenty of GGI, but it's well judged and doesn't overwhelm the real effects and the interesting make-up. My favourite was the music and sound design, which used many unusual effects to punctuate the story.

The realism is broken up with flashbacks and dreams, and then some drug taking opens up the possibilities. But it's only during a bloody operation that we cross the line into a more powerful form of story telling, where all the characters assume psychic significance, but without having to fit into categories. You could think in terms of the Shadow in Jung and Freud's uncanny, but instead the writer goes with the flow of what feels right. In particular, the heroin(e) is taken deeper than the problem of drug abuse in order to purify, an experience that's difficult to dramatize. On the one hand it might go all trippy; on the other, it might insist that all the dreadful events are literally, and not just psychically, true. In either case, you end up with a bog standard horror, whereas this goes beyond the genre.

One thing that puzzled me was the significance of the boy - probably down to me not paying enough attention. Also, I did miss the sense of absolute dread that's necessary to mark the lowpoint of despair - so just on that lack of contrast there was a little misjudgement on the director's part.

Overall: At some point you have to outgrow the horror. Otherwise ...

The Lodge

Shocked but not horrified
A girlfriend struggles for acceptance by her boyfriend's newly bereaved kids, but her past returns to haunt everyone ...

The opening sequence hit me with such a shock that I spent the rest of the movie dreading the director's every move. The event is all the more harrowing for its casual execution, but even as I kept whispering OMG to myself the story slowly unfolded with great skill, especially in the cinematography, which added dimensions to the snowy exteriors and shadowy interiors. So I had a slow, icily atmospheric story constantly holding that same threat of unexpected violence over my head - the most effective jump scare I've seen, and one with material consequences for what follows.

Great set up, but does the movie deliver? In the end it's a psychological chiller with a twist of lemon on the rocks, rather than a horror, and I was disappointed. The pity is that the story had the.elements of a true psychological journey, rather than plot trickery, through the psychic consequences of suicide on those left behind - just the kind of story that horror cinema is suited to, where we get to see thoughts brought to life on the screen. Surely these survivors have to engage over their common experience at some point? The Hereditary-style doll house in the opening scene was a promise of some over-arching force, but the film maker cheated and, instead, gave us a double-switchback with lumpy plausibility and an unexamined view of religious guilt.

The performances are very good, but I thought the lead actress had a lot more to give to a character who was only sketched in outline; and the son may have been miscast, because the role needed earlier signs of his deviousness. Also a problem in the role of the father, common to many horrors, is that he anchors the family in the opening act but is sent away while the position shifts, and returns only to provide an outsider's POV, with no shift in his own position.

The director is excellent at catching mood and atmosphere, and also the contrast in the opening act between liveliness and the weight of death and grief. Cinematography was just beautiful, with several visual metaphors to add to the doll house, and the sound design and music were interesting and always effective,

Overall: Some great quality, but a deliberate dumbing down of a complex story.

The Devil's Candy

Axe murder
The new home of a loving family calls for its previous, bloodthirsty occupant to return.

Short run-time, and about halfway through I was puzzled because the story was well set up and seemed to have more substance than could be disposed of in the remaining 40 minutes. What secret lies behind the cool facade of the art gallery? Will a sub-plot develop in the school? How will the carefully evoked art and music lay the path for the emergence of the satanic force?

Well, they didn't - and the story goes by the B-movie numbers in a showdown with the all too human madman. It does follow through on the banal cosmology in the religious shows on TV, but that's just telling the audience how this stuff works, without showing.

The performances are good, but the character of the father is poorly written - he starts off as an interesting, engaging man, but then gets all whiney, and finally finds redemption in an over-wrought rescue, which includes a hug in the middle of an inferno. They were writing movies more sophisticated than this 100 years ago.

Not much interest in the technical aspects - all done well. There is a joke with the guitar in the final killing - a facetious note that always betrays metallers when it comes to horror: they just don't think about it seriously.

Overall: Interesting set up, followed by a climax that walks around for 40 minutes with a sign on its back.

Blood Prism

Free Buddy
An artist on a mission assembles materials for her first exhibition, but love intervenes.

Naive film-making that tells an interesting story. Even allowing for the shoe-string budget, it's hard to forgive the poor quality of production in the first half, particularly the editing, sound and picture quality. But I really liked the lead performance, which had a stilted frankness. The actress also relishes cavorting in the nude - a true exhibitionist, which suits the story.

The quality improves as our heroine slashes her way through victims who are marked by the apparition of a shadowy figure. The high point is a genuinely good scene involving a door-to-door gospeller, which contains true blasphemy and a blast of black humour.

The theme is purpose in life - or purposefulness - whether in art, in spirit, or in love. You reflect who you are, and hope others see themselves in the reflection. Does it come together in the end? Well, the soundtrack over the final scene is from the Napoleonic wars, so watch and find out.

The music is a real rattle-bag, ranging from Fur Elise to a bit of punk, with a lot of creative commons stuff in the credits. Sounded good to me.

Overall: Plenty of sex and violence, but more a reflection on the blood prism that is life than a horror.

The Perfection

Put your hands together for ...
Two pupils, past and present, of an elite academy for cellists have differing opinions of the demands made for a perfect performance.

Well, well, well. Lurid melodrama with a double switchback that presents at first as cool and sophisticated, but ends up in bizarre body horror. The theme is of female revenge, with a criticism of the Puritan value that hard work is the path to salvation - yet the story itself is puritanical in its black and white view of the world and the merciless urge to punish.

The performances are fine, but you can't help but feel the inward cringe of the actresses as they realize where this is headed. The editing is energetic, but so episodic is the screenplay that it feels like a reboot comes every fifteen minutes. And, despite all the blood, it can't escape the bounds of soap opera.

Overall: Cheap fantasy that took one interesting turn, but kept turning until it ended up banging on the screenwriters' keyboard.

Martyrs Lane

Non vivam
A little girl steals a mysterious keepsake from her mother, only to awaken the past ...

Supernatural tale that reaches for the mysterium from several religious angles, while playing out a mystery of the unquiet grave. The performance of the protagonist is excellent, and the two little girls mix the charm and tension of their encounters just right. The story is melancholy, which is reflected in some beautiful music, and so the pace is sedate despite sophisticated editing.

Cinematography was occasionally interesting, with one over the head pan that introduced an upside down world - that one seemed set for a genuine scare but fizzled out. The few little jump scares should have been dialled up, as adrenalin does help with this kind of story.

The biblical relationship that provides the girls' names is adapted from husband-wife to mother-daughter; a theme of buried relics is carried by the history of ejected monks; and the boundary of life and death runs through the title of a Latin hymn. But for all the well observed religious references, the most effective metaphor is the mirror world, nicely emphasized in the resolution after the climax; and the driver of the plot is the sequence of macabre games the girls play.

For me there were a few dramatic problems. The story hinged on the concealment of an incident that would ordinarily have been explained already to a child of that age - after all, she had been through her own brush with death. And there seemed to be several moments of misdirection to heighten the uncertainty, which added further dissatisfaction as this was the only element that provided the father with dramatic purpose. Second, the reveal came through exposition in a speech and a flashback, which doesn't make for a great movie moment. Finally, the climax raised a religious difficulty that wasn't resolved.

Overall: Well produced supernatural elegy, but the script probably needed one more trip through the shredder.

The Black String

Let people into your life
After hooking up with a random woman, a guy in a dead end job finds his life falling into a weird and menacing decline ...

Vivid tale of psychosis that flashes back and forth between the occult and the mundane. The pace and energy are right up there, helped by sophisticated editing and well judged music, as the upbeat opening descends into frantic flight. The lead performance is good, with that anxious little face delivering some real aggression.

As a straight look inside a mental breakdown, this is very good, and the confrontations with concerned outsiders brings home the ashamed escape from uncomfortable truths that addicts suffer. There's also a clever dig at self-help books, where the original life affirming recommendations are reversed in a survival guide to witchcraft.

The story does take it further than distorted realism, into gothic horror, with a distinct vibe of Lynch about the mysterious characters who circle the hero in his desperate paranoia. But these figures remain on the surface of his delusion and don't really stand for anything in his own life, and so it remains an old-fashioned story with no feedback from the mysterious other side. There is some corroboration of an alternate reality, but in the end it's a clumsy balance. For a more skillful walk along that separating line in madness, check out Unsane by Steven Soderbergh from the same year.

Overall: Well produced terminal journey into madness.

Come Play

Larry the pop-up
An autistic young boy discovers that the entity behind his phone screen wants to make friends ... forever!

More Poltergeist than The Babadook, and it is Spielbergoid in the mildness of its frights and the fuzziness of its sentiment. The plot is pretty good, the performances are fine - especially the hero, who displays genuine features of autism - and the production values are right up there. But the screenplay is so clunky that I figured the director must be an effects specialist who just got someone to jam something together on paper and took it from there - but the director is the writer.

The problem is with successive mis-steps that kept taking me out of the story. Everything to do with the father is just odd - a seemingly decent guy, but he has a minimum wage job in what must be the last non-automated car park in the western world, where he has nothing to do because the place is deserted, and goes from "yeah, right!" scepticism to expositioning perfectly how this monster operates, and then manages to drive at speed with his eyes off the road for thirty seconds, and only then does he crash, ending up in hospital so as to avoid complicating the climax.

Yet the lonely car park toll booth is effective for delivering scares - especially the buzz from a nicely judged jump at 17 mins. The three stooges who gang up on the hero are also a nice touch, yet they all arrive for a sleepover right after bullying the hero - that's just ... come off it! And the backstory of the bully's friendship is either a glitch or unnecessary.

So plenty of elements of quality, but they seem so mushed together that the suspense can't build properly. And then the climax, which is twenty minutes long - like a long-jumper desperately wind-milling through the air after taking off a yard short of the board.

The score is full on horror, but not overwhelming. The cinematography has variety, but not much love for the close up. The effects are good, but too much of the del Toros for my taste.

Overall: Underdeveloped screenplay delivers a box of tricks.

We Need to Do Something

Everything's gonna be OK
To ride out a menacing storm a family takes refuge in their bathroom, only to find themselves sealed in by a fallen tree with just themselves for company. Or is there another presence?

Expertly handled locked-room mystery, which promises to deliver something unique. I found the pace almost perfect, the performances as good as you could hope for, and the sound and effects leaving little pools of horror as the story flows along.

We launch right into the situation without exposition, and for the first half hour the tension notches up as the characters establish themselves with only hints at their troubled background. Then something very odd occurs, and the possibilities open up as we're pitched into a psychic WTF?!

This kept me really engaged to the end, but it did fail to deliver on its promise. Not that I mind an open ending, but the whole experience had enough substance to map back on to some underlying truth, so leaving psychic events jumbled up with actual events felt like a chance missed. To put it another way, it could have been the story of any of the characters - until that character was killed - but ended up on an external, supernatural force instead. So, 'twas not to be - but the ride was entertaining.

Overall: Effective chiller that refused to step up a level.

Ég man þig

A little chilly
A psychiatrist follows a trail of sudden deaths while recovering from the trauma of the disappearance of his young son.

Police procedural meets the unquiet grave of a child. This is pretty much Ringu territory - at least the American remake - but without the lavish set piece scenes and searing menace. There is a disjunction in time revealed late on, which makes you rethink the story, but not by much as there's not a lot to explain. And if you've twigged the early appearance of an unusual object, the second reveal is no surprise.

The production values are fine, nothing to complain about. Flashbacks to vintage times in digital black and white are not convincing, but the volcanic eruption was spectacular.

Overall: More ghostly than horrifying, and nothing original.

Ps. The credits make a good job of thanking the entire population of Iceland by name.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Killing the killer
A powerful politician reminisces on his fateful beginnings in a wild-west town, when evil stalked him to the very precipice ...

Truly epic movie, as it seriously addresses the impossible dilemma: how do you kill the killers without becoming a killer? Christianity says you can't, and should turn the other cheek, keeping faith in the death of death. This movie deals in messy reality, stepping up from a different angle, yet in a way that involves a necessary sacrifice for good to triumph.

Two excellent performances: Lee Marvin genuinely reminded me of someone I know, an example of the type of man whose violence and contempt are always worn in his face. If the election scene had been written with more intensity, I would rank his performance alongside Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. John Wayne combines his relaxed power with patient judgement, and yet it's ironic that the director taunted him on set for failing to make his character's sort of sacrifice in real life.

Apart from that, it's regular western fare. The lighting is outstanding, especially in a violent scene in the newspaper office, when the villains appear as if from the ether.

High Noon

Just as he ties the knot with his bride and prepares to quit town, a retiring marshal gets wind of the return of his deadly nemesis, unexpectedly freed from jail. Should he go or should he stay?

This opens on an interesting scene of three villains assembling on the outskirts of town. There's no diegetic sound, just the title track, as the camera clocks the expressions of welcome and the saddling up. Repeatedly, we return to these characters as they await the noon train bearing their villainous leader, and every time they strike some artful, menacing pose. I loved it. There was a second unit director, so I guess he was responsible for that.

Then the leader steps off the train, and frankly it's a let-down, as he's kinda anonymous and, in a later shot, is revealed in profile as a bit chinless. They should have just stuck Lee van Cleef in the frame, looking slantwise, to give something for the imagination to work on.

The shoot-out that ensues is dull, and I'm afraid the moral of the story fails completely. It turns out there was no jeopardy as the plain-vanilla victory over the villains meant they were never much of a threat; and the indignant outrage we're encouraged to entertain on behalf of the impassive hero and his trusty squaw not only feels cheap but also demands the conclusion that the town wasn't worth saving anyway.

Meanwhile, the only interesting character (and actor), the haughty Mexican madam, choo-choos out of town with the surface of her story barely scratched.

The structure of the story is perfect, since the hero's dilemma is urgent and credible, and the unities of time, place, and action are well observed. But somehow the screenplay chucks it all away in a poor climax.

Overall: Promising structure, fake drama.

The Bloodhound

Only the unborn
At the invitation of a wealthy childhood friend to come stay at his remote home, a poor photographer arrives to find some unexpected residents.

A study in the generational decay of a family, and so peculiar that it seems integrated purely through mood and location. The two friends are mutually genial at first, but a crack opens up, to the point of rupture. A twin sister appears to the guest in dreams, her only remains apparent in her dressing-table items and a bedside bowl of vomit. And lurking in a closet is a hooded man, originating from a creek-bed, who scrabbles across the floor during the night.

The location is a brown, straight-angled house, with steel-barred staircases that slash across the cinematographer's frames. Below is a sepulchral vault, which comes in to play as the lighting of the house glows red with the approaching climax. The score uses tinkling piano, wind-chimes and clicky-sticks.

The dynamic between the friends is of the host staging a betrayal by the guest, as if to confirm his hypothesis of the loneliness of existence; that between the twins, of doomed dependency. The role of the hooded man is creepy and plain mysterious. In the end, there's a sense of a curse being handed down. The performances are excellent.

It's an engaging watch, but no matter what angle I took, it didn't intrigue me because I couldn't get beneath the mood of solemn resignation. It seems to be an adaptation of the famous Poe story, but even that knowledge didn't free up any insight.

Overall: Awaiting instruction.

Bright Hill Road

Do you need to go home?
After arriving at work drunk and avoiding death at the hands of a man she fired, a woman tries to find a way out ...

Real interesting psychic journey down the river of alcohol abuse. Or is it? I'm not being clever, because this movie, for all its flaws, uses a lot of skill in generating a truthful mystery behind the vague reality.

It starts with an ordinary portrait of the alcoholic, which is then blown wide open by a violent event, leading to the heroine's attempt to escape her horrible situation. She fetches up in a boarding house, where events turn weird, and every attempted escape from there ends in her getting drawn back in.

That's the set up, and it's done with varying quality. Early on the cinematography ain't up to much, with crude framing, poorly handled focus (sometimes experimental), and unimaginative lighting. Yet there's one beautiful shot of the heroine's terrified face on the pillow, with her eyes in shadow; and an interesting reverse-angle cut through a wine rack that creates the effect of the heroine taking fright at both the opportunity for alcohol and the sight of herself, which plays into the repeated mirror motif - kudos to the editor.

The music and sound effects are a bit obvious. The direction too is clunky in parts, in need of more thought at the storyboard stage, and relies on effects that are too explicit early on. But it settles in for the ride, and there are many imaginative touches that fill out the heroine's bizarre world, such as the wine bottle tags and the guest register.

I think the story finds its feet when the third character is introduced, with an excellent performance that provides a stable frame. The lead actress goes through a good range of drunken behaviour, from self-confident assertion in front of the mirror to haunted anxiety the next morning - although Emily Blunt still takes the Oscar for that kind of performance. The actress playing the proprietor is perfunctory in a limited part.

The climax is fascinating, as the heroine begins to make sense of her situation, sorting photos on the bathroom wall, even as the threat closes in on her. I think the screenwriter must have learned a lot from David Lynch in how to present psychic events as regular narrative. So the notion of the hotel as rehab becomes more explicit, yet it seems just as much a trap as the heroine's own personal gin palace in her bottle strewn bedroom. And is alcohol the real problem, or an escape from something deeper?

The final reckoning does wrap it up entirely, but for me it ducks the psychological truth by insisting that the vague reality, with all those violent deaths, was literal fact rather than a stand in for forces struggling within the heroine. Instead of coming to terms with herself, she says an act of contrition and submits to something external, which has unwelcome connotations of the God of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you watch Mulholland Dr carefully - which I guess was a big influence here - you find that nobody dies, and the strange story maps on to a tragic but ordinary life.

Overall: Real interesting, probably a rewatcher.

The Oak Room

A guy walks into a bar ...
A disloyal son returns to the bar his late father used to frequent, but who will face the music?

A web of haunting menace, woven through stories within stories, down to the fourth level where we find a piglet. The point here is to catch the drift, rather than wonder about the destination, because there's only one place all these characters are headed.

This is framed and paced with expertise, using visual and musical motifs to layer the experience; with stories split apart or laid out on divergent tracks, both fabricated and sworn to be true. It even includes a goose-the-truth scene to show how exactly to tell a story - and, yes, the barman made that story up, but his next one reveals all you need to take to heart and, in combination with the piglet story, provides a disturbing foundation.

The two lead performances are excellent, and the production is to a high standard, varying the emphasis in what is basically a two-hander. And I loved the music from Torero and Steph Copeland.

Overall: Not really a horror, but a weird tale done to perfection.

Come to Daddy

My little tiger
An eager-to-please son obeys the call of his estranged, reclusive father to come visit, but at their meeting the father is up for a fight ...

Interesting scenario that winds up the tension nice and tight in the first act. Then an unexpected full stop that got me looking forward to the possibilities, as the hero is left alone with his deep seated issues in a house that goes bump in the night.

And whaddya know - there's a totally offbeat plot development that introduces the mighty Michael Smiley in a sort of Frank Booth role. But it doesn't work. I think the problem is the knowing, facetious dialogue, foreshadowed in a ridiculous line about burping on demand, which drains all the menace - as if the screenwriter was embarrassed by his story. And for whatever reason, Smiley really is not convincing as a force of malevolence - probably because the bloody violence doesn't grow out of the ground prepared earlier in the movie. It's a random sequence, derivative of Martin McDonagh, which comes off as half-hearted juvenile fantasy by introducing throwaway characters after already throwing away the coroner and policeman from earlier on. A couple of scenes at the motel are ripped straight from Tarantino, but have nowhere near the same ear for dialogue. To be honest, I got a bit distracted during the underwhelming climax.

And where did the hunchback disappear to? What about the alcohol dependency? Why is the hero a musician? Why the reference to another slit-wrist suicide? Or to the Celestine Prophecies? Maybe the screenplay needed a few more trips through the shredder to grow its integrity.

The pace is pretty good, the performances excellent in the first act, and I liked the choice of odd music tracks. The score itself felt a bit dumpty-dumpty-dum in its humour. Apart from that, awesome location and photography.

Overall: Pregnant setup spills its load by imitating others.


Scooby Don't
After an unspecified sexual transgression at a frat house party, a vengeful killer stalks the party-goers.

Long time since I've tested the dried-out husk of the teen/college slasher genre - and this reminds me why. Basically a Scooby Doo-style conceal/reveal plot using a mask, with no psychology, no humour, and no life-like motivation. The suspense is supplied strictly to formula, hammered home by the thunderous music, and the only slightly innovative aspect is the onscreen phone messages, which clog things up worse than subtitles with their endless 'you OK?'s.

The performances are fine, and there is an attempt to build the story in a thoughtful way, but that just drains the pace to the point where the drawn out climax tempted me to fast forward. I guess the fact the victims are all male is a first, but that's just a function of the prevailing political correctness that left me wondering why the villain didn't have a Russian accent and drive a pick-up.

To be honest, I've always thought this genre limited, but in the '70s and '80s at least it was done for visceral thrills. Even Scream in the '90s had the benefit of an awesome opening scene to offset its dreary parody. This has none of that, and then some. Yet, to judge by the quality of cinematography, it obviously enjoyed a budget that could finance a dozen better indie movies. Jeez.


Lilly go
Two little sisters are rescued from their feral existence by their uncle and his girlfriend, but arrive hand-in-hand with a force from beyond.

Conventional horror that draws on various sources, but is ultimately a creature of the sentimental fantasy of the producer, del Toro, along with his signature special effects. If indulgence of the latter isn't to your taste, then I'm afraid the movie is quite a failure.

The establishing scenario is overwrought, the ghost's form is revealed far too early, the ghost itself is all CGI and guttural noises, the jump scares are crude and the dream sequences unsubtle, there are several characters whose role is purely to nail plot points or exposition (in fact the hero plays no real part in the plot), groans of disbelief are heard when characters thoughtlessly enter the woods as night is falling, and much of the sensibility is derivative of earlier J-horror: The Ring for its unquiet grave, The Grudge for jerky-limbed apparitions.

The performances are good, particularly from the youngest child, who pulls off a convincing scene where the heroine subdues her. That scene provides the character arc for the heroine, who initially for all her grunge vibe might as well be a straight-laced spinster lacking in all affection and joy. And yet, a conservative instinct comes through in the disapproval of the heroine's lifestyle, which just reminded me that Pan's Labyrinth too is about people knowing their place despite its reaction against authority. Apart from that, the pace keeps us chopping along, while the score is passable.

The stated theme is really ambitious. One throwaway character describes ghosts as emotions bent out of shape, needing to be righted, which opens wide the door for a psychoanalytic journey to the origins of horror. And the psychiatrist ventures forth with the notion that science can only advance by exploring new realities. Plenty to chew on there, but this screenplay is nowhere near sophisticated enough to pose the necessary dilemmas.

Overall: Sentimental tragedy dressed up as horror.


I don't play with dolls anymore
Suspicion falls on the sister of a girl killed during her first holy communion ...

Much to enjoy in this movie. It has the lurid brutality that the '70s specialised in, with a worrying line in sexual inappropriateness, and makes no bones about its bleak outlook.

The cinematography is intriguing, with my favourite composition a big knife in the kitchen foreground as a line of three females draws the eye into the frame. Plenty of little touches of the cruel or grotesque, including a kitten lapping the fresh blood of a peculiar murder victim. And also that period habit of intriguing snap-shots of by-standers: the mental hospital orderly's watchful face, and the cousin's dumbfounded look at the final communion service.

The performances are good, with many scenes of raised voices that jangle the nerves. But the over-ripe music gives the impression of numerous string instruments being furiously sawed-in-half.

The real problem is the preposterous plot, which even on its own terms falls between the stools of police procedural and psychological portrait. For me, Alice's story was the main event, and I found my interest drifting as the plot jumped the track to become a sort of blood-drenched Scooby Doo mystery. In the end, I don't class this as a horror, but as psychological thriller - and a cheap one at that.

Overall: Harrowing disturbance descends into daft commotion.

The Broken

Surface deep
After a mirror shatters at her father's surprise birthday party, a woman experiences a growing sense of otherness ...

Neatly set up horror mystery, but in the end it feels truncated, as if the theme wasn't fully explored. The performances are very good, the editing and score maintain the pace and tension, and the photography creates a cool grey London with splashes of crimson blood.

All along I was trying to work out the psychic angle, and with the incidence of mirror images, dopplegangers, and amnesia the door was wide open for the uncanny return of repressed emotion. That seemed to be on track, since the protagonist is on the cusp of change, by moving in with her boyfriend, and her father is retiring. In one moment, we see the literal mirror-imaging of a person in an x-ray; in another, the mirror world from the reverse angle. So I felt it was set up for something disturbingly deep, like Maupassant's La Horla or Mulholland Dr.

In the end, the whole thing becomes bloodily real, and it turns out we go no deeper than the surface of the mirror. The climax is chilling, but doesn't leave the nerves tingling as the credits roll.

Overall: Stylish exercise in the weird tales genre.

Anything for Jackson

Bad screenplay
An old couple have a plan to restore their dead grandson to life, but it turns out complicated ...

Gimmicky Satanic ritual story that starts out intriguing but loses its way. The biggest mark against the story is that it includes an entire Satanic cult that turns out to be necessary for only one plot point, when a phone call is received right in the middle of the climax. Poor writing.

The performances are fine, production values are all there, along with good skill in rendering creepy scenes - but it doesn't add up to much, passing by like a ride on a ghost train at the funfair. Another mark against it is the constant sense that the film-makers have set it up for comedy, while never playing it for laughs. I know metallers love displaying the badges of horror, but this just confirms that they're not into real horror.

Overall: Early promise ends in bland disappointment.


Put 'em in the cornfield!
Mysteriously left to fend for herself in her grand family home, a little girl maintains domesticity with her playthings even as a malevolent force circles ...

Wow! What an opening - intriguing and emotional, as the protagonist evokes all sorts of protective feelings in an environment out of step with reality. We're inside a menacing fairytale, with no path out of the dark woods for our little princess, and the performance by the young actress is exceptional in bringing it to life.

Just past the halfway mark comes a reveal that straightens up the story, and from there the climax steadily builds. The plot is an elaboration on a cheesy old Twilight Zone episode, It's A Good Life, but making a huge improvement in dramatic development, although without any great insight.

Aside from the protagonist, the performances are good. Editing and directing keep us chopping along, while holding back on the mystery. Cinematography is lush, and it helps that the young actress is perfect for close-ups. The score is well judged, sometimes arresting my breath with the tension. Plenty of special effects, but nothing to distract from the story.

Overall: Classic sci-fi horror, well executed and with a brilliant lead performance.


Limited but effective
A castaway on a desert island buries her companion's corpse, only to discover the grave violently disturbed by an unknown force ...

Effective creature feature. No messing about with exposition, as we're immediately presented with the heroine hauling herself out of the surf, and the struggle to survive is all systems go.

The actress is a little shaky, and the editing doesn't linger long enough, but the pace is good. Good judgement too in holding back on the creature, which mostly presents through suggestion and glimpses, particularly in one reveal with a glowing red flare, until the time is ripe.

There was a point I thought it was going to be a mind-warp story, when the heroine discovers photos that seemed to have her in frame with someone wearing a skull mask, but we got back to normal service. The filling in of the backstory was unnecessary, providing a sort of Dead Calm complication with plot holes, and resulted in some awkward dialogue. The final confrontation could have been more convincing, but the movie doesn't pretend to offer anything we haven't seen before as the plucky heroine springs back from the body-crushing blows of a vastly superior opponent.

Overall: Satisfying bit of genre.

Ps. Worth waiting for the credits, as there's an excellent track from Georgi Kay.

Come True

An insomniac student signs up for a sleep study, only to find her dreams mean more than she knew ...

Good performances in a story that reaches to another dimension in the exploration of character. The dreamscapes are macabre and well shot, and while the pace is patchy there is a moment of deep fear as the threat is fully revealed. The score is also interesting, except for ten minutes around the middle point when it seems to tread water just as the tension should be piled on.

A couple of points where credulity is stretched, but by the end I found myself having to rethink them because of the change in the logic of the story telling. There is a key to this, but I haven't figured out how far back the crucial change occurred. The director points to a Jungian framework, with captions naming four aspects of the psyche - the persona, anima and animus, the shadow, and the self. At the start we encounter the shadow, which is clearly part of a dream, but looking back it's unclear whether we touch base with reality at all - and so the heroine's odd domestic circumstances are never explained. There are a few more clues, like the change of eye colour, the disappearance of the other female volunteer, the simultaneity of the dreams, and some deep point about having sex with one's own opposite, but I'd have to watch more closely to piece it together.

The danger with hanging a story from a framework is that you lose touch with the character and drama. This does a good job, but I'd really have to trust the director's skill to commit to rewatching.

Overall: Ambitious, but I wasn't sure what it was offering me.


Nothing is worse than this
In a post-apocalyptic society in which emotions have been silenced by genetic engineering, a man struggles to contain the sounds within him ...

Quality sci-fi that explores human adaptation to new technology while also drawing parallels to our contemporary world of work, with its omnipresent monitoring of deviance. The production smacks of quality, with energetic editing and an interesting score buoying up a solemn story. The performances are good, particularly given the limited range of emotion allowed to the characters, and the star names maintain a degree of reservation.

The music has a broad selection of classical, and a tense synth score that works intelligently during a seduction scene. Another stand out is the choice of locations, which seem to be in Singapore and Japan - entirely convincing as a clean cut centre for the management and discipline of humans.

Thematically, the concern is with individuality struggling against conformity, and life's capacity of finding a way past all obstacles. A twist at about the hour mark sets up a delicious dilemma, and the consequences fall into place in the final satisfying act.

What the story doesn't do is dig into the mind-bending effects of emotional repression - we're left with scattered evidence of suicide and collapse, without the urges of the unconscious affecting the way the story is told. In fact, it's not even explained why it was necessary to silence the emotions. So, not as deep as I'd hoped.

Overall: Understated quality.

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