Shadowplayed

IMDb member since November 2012
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Reviews

Pin Cushion
(2017)

The White Crow
This is a sad film. A loner, disabled mom and her daughter move to a new town for a fresh start, but they are just too weird and don't fit in. Depressed, low self-esteemed mom is just heartbreaking to watch unravel. The teen daughter tries to fit in, to no avail. It seems as these desperate attempts at socializing just don't work. As if when you're stigmatized the stigma lasts forever. Even the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't ease the pain and sadness of a tragedy that came before. A well made indie film that leaves the bitter taste, as much as you want to look into a brighter future with a cautious smile. Damn, this one ruined my night.

Home Movie
(2008)

Bad biology
I was not a fan of this film first time around, and while it improved upon rewatch, there are things that irked me as they would any viewer eager to see some intelligent and sane adult's reaction to...well, occurrences as they were presented.

Unlike some reviewers I do NOT believe molestation has taken place in this film, nor there are supernatural forces at work, rather a case of rotten apples. 2 for 2, as far-fetched as it sounds. But, these are twins, with their weird little ways and enclosed little world, so there you go.

Seriously, how oblivious parents can be? From overbearing, over-enthusiastic father - the pastor, to child psychiatrist of a mom who does not recognize her kids are unwell, then extremely violent, and when she does just does not address it properly? The fact we have two opposing factors here - science vs religion was never properly used, eventually tackled in a shallow manner, shall we exorcise them or fill them up with pills? None of those approaches worked, cause parents in this film haven't the slightest idea how to deal with their kids' alarming behavioral problem.

It could have helped it we had some prospect of how the kids acted before moving into the house. Have they always been this weird, or did it happen suddenly, and unexpectedly? Since parents show no reaction to their kids' lack of human reaction I'm inclined to think they'd always been a couple of weirdos, it's just they got fed up with the parents and decided to put a stop to their annoying, happy-go-lucky holiday routine.

I won't go into tech aspects, basically, found footage tropes are present as expected, sometimes little annoying but for the fans of subgenre shouldn't be too much of an obstacle. My bigger gripe is the story (basic idea is fine) and how far fetched many parts of it actually were.

Styria
(2014)

Love Will tear us Apart
Kinda saw that coming, didn't you? The title I mean. Yeah, the very subjective take on not particularly great film that threw around Joy Division references and "Means to An End" at crucial moments. I'm sold! If Styria had been made in the 70s its spirit and iconography it was trying to recreate would have been a memorable piece. Still, I kinda feel for the pure fanboyism for the film and music of that period this piece displays and am on board. Would I do the same, given the opportunity? You bet!

Stephen Rea. Time to face the facts: greatest actor that never was! Loved this gent since Citizen X, but he just did not give his 100% here. Just kind of exists and wanders through this film hoping for it to be over already.

Can't shake the feeling Styria was an ambitious project. What it lacks in story telling and filmmaking skills makes up in pure enthusiasm. Usually, it is not enough. Was enough for me though, at least this time. I'd "blame" it on predominant music choices, couple of lovely gals, Hungarian countryside and some brief gore. Captures that Gothic atmosphere quite well. So, mission accomplished, as far as I'm concerned. Means to an end. Yeah.

Polednice
(2016)

Noonday Itch
Let it be said right off the bat: not daring enough to be called horror. Folklore elements that give us taste of what could have been do give this drama a certain flavor, but it did get cold feet in the final act that could have redeemed the slow build-up.

Beautifully shot, the amount of golden light that, in my experience, could only be challenged by The Reflecting Skin, the film certainly holds that dark grief that characters carry around deep down.

Largely psychological, Polednice takes sweet time portraying the village community mother and daughter got to be a part of, and only briefly plays with a prospect of supernatural. It is, sadly, never fully exploited although the opportunities were many. Instead, it builds suspense just to go nowhere with it. A shame, with such potent setting, cinematography and cast this film needed just that one step to be truly memorable genre piece. Instead, it just left dangling in the midair...I was left itching for more.

Green Room
(2015)

Nazi Punks, Fnk Off!!
From the director of low intensity revenge thriller, Blue Ruin, comes a new crime chiller, promising interesting sub cultural battle.

The Washington (or close by) - based punk rock band 'Ain't Rights' get themselves in the middle of neo nazi (white supremacists') club; somewhere in Portland. After underwhelming 'tour' and having no other choice they accept a gig in nazi-punk club, having been promised decent pay, if they can keep a low profile.

I absolutely loved the choice they have made off the bat, as their surroundings proved hostile, they chose to cover a Dead Kennedys' song 'nazi punks, f#ck off' and start the gig with the protest. But that proved to be a lesser offense, soon they witness a murder in the club. Of course, the "dogs" in charge and the owner of the club himself won't let these witnesses go just like that. They need to cover up the whole thing, and our punks are doomed.

You see, these people have been merely using the club as a cover up for illegal/criminal activities. We know how these "ubermensch' love to pride themselves in being clean cut and vice - free...but these particular people used the pop cultural thing to push drugs and so on. Now they must protect the investment, and of course, the witnesses need to disappear.

The film is almost a perfect package of tension, conflict, gore, except it takes a while to get going. I thought the pace was one of the major problems here, along with the screenplay which does seem to have some gaping holes, and no solid filler.

As far as cinematography and cast, music, which sets the tone, no complaints (it's wonderful) except for the Anton Yelchin's role, who is the weakest of the bunch, as far as I'm concerned, the least likable of them all. Patrick Stewart, as a ring leader, club owner and "entrepreneur", did a marvelous job, I only wish he had a bigger part and more lines, obviously. And his 'yes men' were good too.

Long time has passed since Romper Stomper or American History X, we needed new blood, new stories and new perspective, and why not make it a conflict we can relate to: a musical, but mostly a cultural one, with a side note of what it's really about. A clash between law and lawlessness, between good and evil; love and hate, law-abiding people and criminals. Right and wrong. God, I love punk!

Demon
(2015)

Dybbuk Wedding
The washed out, depressing landscape greets us at the beginning of this Polish film.

Film promises the bleak journey into the heart of rural Poland where our self-assured protagonist (Pole living in England) expects to meet his wife to be, seal the deal and start a new life with his beautiful Polish bride.

You gotta know a little something about Slavic weddings...they are drunken and unpredictable. Well, surely not all of them, but the mentality permits a bit of over-the-top behavior fueled by the good ole booze, for sure. Isn't it the same worldwide? Not like the rural Slavic wedding, no.

Hence, aside from some hints it's not easy to determine what's wrong with the groom. Yeah, he's seeing the unmarked grave and the skeleton, he's seeing ghost of a Jewish girl, he's twitching and having seizures...yep, the guy's possessed.

The story goes back and forth from in-laws trying to cover up the groom's bad state to dancing and drinking, but he's in such a bad shape it's no longer possible to hide. Finally the old Jewish professor attending the wedding gets called to examine the man, but....

The story ends before it has gotten a proper explanation, bit of backstory, just pieces of a dream, hints and photographs. We are left to fill in the blanks on our own, but it was an interesting ride, and the "clinging spirit" does not let go of a marked soul.

If you compare this possession film to (traditionally filmed) American films in the same vein, it's very different, and therein the key to the East European cinematography appreciation lies. It's extremely realistic, bleak, the mud is muddy and the sky is overcast; nothing is either romanticized or glamorous, rather very raw. There lies the dramatic effect, cause the world where the characters live is very much 'real', never dreamy, not even for supernatural activities' sake. The complexity of everyday life is stressed in all its ordinary, fleshy glory.

I find the dybbuk legend to be very interesting, it mostly appears in old German and Polish films, but like every demon it has its needs and its path, much like any other you're likely to encounter in western cinematography. Those demons, they all want the same, a living being to cling to and possess their soul so that the body can become a vessel. What then...well, I guess it's nice to be among humans again! Also, the most interesting thing here is the stark contrast between the world of living and the dead, the joy and sorrow, which can become one, which always live side by side, as one of the final shots reveal nicely. Nice film to ponder on, surely open to interpretation and one that demands multiple viewings to fully appreciate.

Baskin
(2015)

Hellraiser...Turkish Way
So, after long anticipation Baskin (Raid) delivers, to an extent.

It could be divided into at least two sections but none of it matters much cause director clearly intended to use a slim story of 5 policemen on call as an excuse to thread the torture ground and expose hell, or his vision of it. Only, it's not entirely his, cause the body horror, torture and the whole lot has been covered a few times already.

Turkish horror deals with religious themes mostly, exorcism and possession. This time it gets to be gory, bloody and more violent and that's what places Baskin in different category and offers some fresh material and worthy entry to their cinematography.

We get to meet group of less-than-sophisticated men in the local restaurant talking about football and sex, picking fights with poor unsuspected waiter. But then, they got a call and head to check out the given address, not many details and not much to go on...long story short, they end up in some sort of a hell or limbo, with strange creatures, mutants, torture devices, flesh eaters etc.

Here's where elaborate conversation from the beginning gets a bit broken and reality gets divided into two realms, the parallel reality if you will. Not a big fan of those myself, but demons and hellish torture, floating in and out of reality usually exist so they can teach the characters involved some lessons? Not here, mostly it is torture for torture's sake, by a little, disfigured person, a master (without pins and needles). A Father, or whatever, is a sort of a Pinhead figure here but there's hardly any point to his lessons or hardly any sin to be punished...I honestly didn't see the higher purpose to this inferno.

And that is a bit of a problem, the visual part and direction are quite satisfactory but not much actual story or 'point' to back it up. So, it did feel a bit bizarre and random, although so was Demons('85) for example, and people still love it!

However, as a directorial debut it was rather nice an effort, director's heart was in the right place, you could tell it was made by a horror fan with all the right role models in mind. Props for that, and I certainly am looking forward to future films of his.

Aux yeux des vivants
(2014)

Experienced duo fails to deliver
It's hard to talk about expectations when I knew as little as possible about this long pending Bustillo/Maury project. Alas, I ended up disappointed just the same.

First of all, after the previous films that helped them make a name for themselves and get recognition from the fans, it was natural to expect next level from experienced directors which was not to be the case here.

Film opens up with the grim picture of dysfunctional,'white trash' family during Halloween in a recognizable, gory manner, in which directors basically homage themselves. A little psychosis, and bucket of blood for good measure. Strangely, as film proceeds, along with weird pace and questionable reasoning, much of the killing occurs completely off screen whilst in other instances villain lingers and enjoys inflicting pain to his victims. So, I'd say the motivation for this gory - but - not - in the right - places treatment boggles the mind. We all know how this duo of directors love their gore and do not shy away from it...so...what the heck?

Soon enough though, film takes new turn so instead of 'inbred, disfigured backwoods monster family' we get an homage to classic slashers with all the familiar tropes. Okay, Bustillo/Maury more or less abandoned the idea of following their own aesthetics and went for Halloween homage instead. So, this is where real problems started.

As per usual for most slashers protagonists are bound to act irrationally and as dumb as possible. These people took the cake. Soon, everything goes down the drain, half-established backstory of the killer (which, by the way, is one of stronger points, given his medical condition), the motive for killing, the choice of victims, the timeline becomes iffy, important kills completely overlooked, stupid and careless law enforcement officers acting totally useless once they'd showed up. No comedic relief, and the said police could have easily been turned into one, the effect could have been better cause otherwise I'm not sure what was their purpose in this film.

To say something about the scare factor; admittedly the film had some tense moments and practical fx was rather admirable. That's not the problem, we all know these guys can direct. But what happened to the script and who turned this story into a convoluted mess is another thing completely. Shame, because it could have been so much more, had the vision and script been clearer and same goes for intentions regarding the course of the story.

If you need gore, nice fx and masks to get you going, this film is not half bad, but if you also happen to need a logical, sensible narration, well, you might have to look elsewhere for your 'fix'.

Nicije dete
(2014)

Homo Homini Lupus
This is a film inspired by actual events and has indeed closely followed the 'real'story of a feral child found somewhere in rural Bosnia. A child is found living among wolves, nobody knew who he is, his name, family, background. He could have wandered off and gotten lost never to be found, he could have been left there, who knows. Anyway, the child is sent to Belgrade, Serbia (1988 it was still Yugoslavia) to be examined and placed him into orphanage.

He even got a name – a Muslim name, Haris (cause that part of Bosnia is mostly populated by Muslims) and this seemingly tiny and unimportant detail will somewhat determine his faith.

Haris does not seem to walk, talk or understand language, he acts like a wolf and keeps to himself, pretty much isolated from other kids. The teachers at the institution try to reach out and get through him, with little success. But an older boy, Zika grows interested in poor Haris and starts tutoring and protecting him from other children's cruel jokes.

Big portion of film is dedicated to his time spent at the orphanage, following his progress and relationships with Zika and the rest of the local kids… Haris (nick-named Pucke) gets really attached to older boy, but the boy is troubled, with abusive parent and pretty much in 'n out of the orphanage. Zika's faith will pretty much mean a big turning point for Haris, who goes through big change, socializes as much as possible in a couple of year's span, while he was there.

But, something changes and interrupts Pucke's progress. The civil was breaks in former Yugoslavia, war in Bosnia – and Haris gets called to come back to the place where he was found. What's more, some orphans who lost their homes, a Bosnian Serbs, now immigrants are sent to Haris' orphanage. And having heard his name, they developed and instant pick on him, cause he is 'enemy'. He is Bosnian citizen and need be back home…so authorities in Serbia had no other choice but to get him 'shipped' out.

Drama is very slow building at first, as we follow this 10-12 year old boy though his difficult socialization, much screen time is used to depict the orphanage and its hierarchy. Production and cinematography are excellent, as are the roles, especially young Denis Muric (Haris) who shines in a demanding part in which he doesn't speak much but his body language is exquisite. His face shows every complicated emotion the role demands and more… very talented young actor.

As you can imagine, with all things said here, and some left to find out yourselves, this is not a happy tale, cause there's a lot of grief, loss and not enough sense of belonging, no friends, no family for the protagonist of this film.

No One's Child could have easily slipped into preachiness, sappiness, etc. It's nothing of the sort. It uses a peculiar feral child story and places it into many contexts, a war context being the most hard hitting of them all. Unfortunately, sometimes you're better off society and people. Especially those who call the shots in a sad and messed up world.

Zirneklis
(1992)

Vita and the Devil
The film starts with Freudian quote, talking about the repressed sexuality as the source of fear and neurosis.

Vita lives a secluded life with her mother and attends religious school. But her exceptional beauty, youth and purity won't go amiss, the renown painter gets interested in her and asks her pastor and spiritual guide to let him use her as model for Virgin Mary. Vita agrees to this, not knowing the artist is a dangerous and perverted man with sinister intentions. There's something dark and unsettling about the painter, and Vita will learn pretty soon the full extent of his fascination, he wants her body and he wants to corrupt her soul. He will haunt her in her dreams and stalk her relentlessly, there's something demonic about this guy. He is almost non human.

Of course, painter's obsession aside, this brief encounter awakens something in Vita, she starts fantasizing and experiencing sexual urges, so this is sort of coming of age story. Having been raised in religious environment, this is all so new for Vita, and she's confused and scared, but she gets some pleasure out of strange sexual nightmares. The most prominent one is the sexual encounter with the big spider, as the title suggests, and this will become light motive here. Soon, the film sets the stage for battle of wills between the strange man and priest, a war for Vita's soul.

What strikes me as interesting in all this is apparent ambiguity Vita displays, she doesn't seem scared although she keeps saying it, she doesn't seem a tortured soul although the painter relentlessly haunts her. She's happy go lucky, always with a big smile, very jovial, flirting with men she meets, but all in a very casual – 'unaware' – manner. As if she's completely aware of the effect her youth and beauty have on men, and as if she's not ashamed of her blooming sexuality. Which is, of course, in total contrast with her upbringing and strict family – we might call this film a sexploitation in many aspects.

I was pleasantly surprised with cinematography, the camera work and photography is at times exceptional and captures the mood perfectly. Breathtakingly beautiful main actress plays a big part in all this, she's a sight for sore eyes and as such perfect for the role. Outdoor shots – nature, cliffs, seaside, forest, castles and monastery – all very arty, breathe decadence and in the best tradition of Jean Rollin's typical settings or Andrzej Zulawski's early films with the touch of body horror in parts. Recommended, if you can locate it.

Covjek koga treba ubiti
(1979)

The Man to Kill
It's rare that such a film got made in former Yugoslavia, a combination of history/horror/fantasy. I have expected art film or at the very least something similar to Zulawski's Diabel. But this was more local in nature, cause it leans on the story of False Tzar, Stephen the Small - a peculiar historical figure in the 18th century Montenegro.

The power struggle is on between Hell/Satan and God's earthly representatives, the Church.

Russian Emperor Peter the 3rd has been assassinated by the hands of his wife, empress Catherine, a coup has happened. This does not make Devil happy as this sudden change of events questions their power and makes church stronger. Something needs to be done, so one of Hell's lower officers, Farfa, tzar Peter's doppelganger is chosen and sent to Montenegro to pose as (un)dead Russian tzar and hopefully when the time comes - after having been accepted by friendly people of Montenegro - comes back to Russia and reclaims the throne.

I have to admit, this sounds a bit messy and not very logical a plan but it works, Farfa - now called Scepan (Stephen) is welcomed by the people of Montenegro, cause late (now resurrected) tzar Peter has been this small country's friend and protector in the past, but church representatives are less than happy to have this shady figure around. He's growing more popular while church's influence weakens.

So they plan to have him removed with the help of Russia. But other forces such as Turks are also interested to have the impostor killed - but that's not the half of it...Now that political climate has changed in Hell's favor, Satan wants Farfa back, so this guy have some of the most powerful figures on and below Earth after his head.

One of the most interesting aspect of 'Covjek Koga Treba Ubiti' is the unhinged and imaginative portrayal of Hell, its hierarchy and disciples. The masks, scenes of torture, Satan's chambers and so on are indeed very bold for such a country and such a cinematography - vastly conservative at the time. And pulled of rather nicely. Cinematography is pretty good. Some may think that the critical and anti-church sentiment that is apparent here may have been shocking, but apart from daring nudity and some sexuality which I suspect was not quite approved, anticlericalism in Yugoslavia as communist country was very much a natural state of affairs. In addition, director became famous at the time by his war films, portraying brave partisans battling Germans during WW2.

Here, he takes a more fictional approach, depicting the struggle between ultimate good/evil, but in his version, church and priests are even more corrupt than Hell's representative, so Farfa (a former devil's disciple, now people's favorite ruler) is much better person than people of the church. So in short, he may have been saying there's only lesser evil to choose, cause there are no good guys here.

But back to The Man to Kill, after having been denounced and ridden of his powers he tries to get back to normal life, as a man and not supernatural being. He has tricked the Satan, the church, the Turks, everyone, but hopes they'll leave him alone to enjoy the new position and new found love with the local girl, Elfa. But alas, Satan is not one to double cross.

Prokletinja
(1975)

The Damned Thing
The Damned Thing is an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's short story by the same name. The source material is supernatural and metaphysical in nature with strong comic or rather sarcastic undertones. It deals with human relationship with nature, the fear of the unknown and destiny.

Branko Plesa's film is very literal adaptation, down to the setting and costumes. It looks to be set in the American midwest, so the actors are dressed in typical western movie outfits. This film starts with the death of a hunter, a lonely man who has built his cabin in the marshes and spent his feverish, insomnia stricken nights wide awake hunting - something. Upon his death the inquest has been held to determine the cause and circumstances surrounding it.

Local men have gathered in the cabin, but besides the state of hunter's corpse, shredded pieces of clothing, his diary entries and vague testimony by his friend - who is the only witness - this death is surrounded by mystery.

The film will slowly deal with all these 'facts' some of which are hard to explain and digest, thus unraveling the supernatural nature of it. Late hunter has encountered an unknown, invisible force which he called 'the damned thing', tried to fight it and chase it off his property but lost the battle. And lost the war.

The source material is cryptic so this low budget film stepped into 'arty' territory, no special effects to speak of, indoor shots and dialogue, wildlife footage, and outdoor flashbacks to help us understand the timeline of events and this man's life philosophy and his fate. As we often compare the book and the movie, gotta say, Bierce's masterful and enigmatic short story wins this one. The adaptation 'Prokletinja' is not a bad film but far from the brightest star in ex Yu filmography.

The Boy
(2015)

Loneliness is a Disease
...And it brings out the worst in people. Take Ted and his dad for example. John (David Morse) is depressed and bit of a drinker, running a run down motel in a middle of nowhere, where guests arrive only by accident. Ted is a cute little blond boy, who caught an acute case of sociopathy, he's fascinated with death and very weird young man.

The running thread in this film is vast, unavoidable loneliness of the place and characters, not a healthy situation for a kid, who's getting bored and his anger for being stuck there builds slowly.

Creepy kids are often quite annoying, that's just how things are, and it's kinda hard to actually root for them but there are certain aspects of his life that can make us feel bad for Ted. At least occasionally, and for a brief moment. Mom's run away with some random guest, so he's left with the father, a decent guy but kind of lethargic and a loner himself. And the dream that he'll one day leave this miserable place and join his mother.

The pace is very slow which of course stresses the atmosphere, the actual misdeeds that we witness break away from the overall melancholy and outbursts of anger provide much needed dynamics. There are moments of tension which get slowly drowned by the tone of the film, building on leisurely drama rather than lifting the horror elements. But the finale is certainly fitting, as all we'd seen before it led to the big resolution.

This film is not particularly original, let me mention brilliant The Good Son, as a reference; but it follows the recent trend in cinema where slow burn drama dominates even straight genre work, making them seem more arty and meditative at the expense of action sequences. Making even US films like this one, seem more...I don't know...European in tone and style.

The film doesn't really dwell on the boy's nature, it doesn't raise obligatory nature vs nurture question as we are aware this boy's life is not happy. On the other hand it deals with father - son relationship a bit, making it very clear mom's absence and isolation has really affected the kid. But has it really, or did he just want to break away from boring routine where nothing happens unless you make it so yourself? "Oh well. We all do what we can not to think about life" I suppose.

Ich seh ich seh
(2014)

Not THAT arty....
Goodnight Mommy starts off as more of a fantasy with carefree but weird child's play abruptly interrupted by an ominous presence in a form of a mom. The film proceeds in cant-put-my-finger-on it threatening kind of way, where atmosphere and relationship between characters is less than friendly and very strange. They act like strangers, well, at least mom is. The boys, Elias and Lucas are trying to determine if the bandaged person whose face they can't make out is indeed their loving mother, but seem less sure of it as time goes by. You see, mom has returned from the hospital after the operations she'd undergone due to an accident.

Not much in this film is explained, firstly how the kids of that age could be left alone in a remote house while the parent is away for, supposedly, considerable amount of time. This part is the biggest gap in this subtle psychological horror with heavy dramatic elements.

But, mom is back but the twins are not content, she seems angry, impatient and hostile, someone must've taken her place, and the woman before them must be an impostor. The build up is somewhat leisurely, Goodnight Mommy is nicely made but it takes a sweet time while the careful viewer gets clearer idea what's the deal here. I'd hoped for a different kind of conclusion but as the film reaches the climax the actions taken by characters seem more extreme so some explicit violence is to be expected. Although the dreamy, cold then threatening atmosphere supported by melancholic images of a remote modern house in the middle of nowhere and surrounding nature are spot on, I wish the characters were a bit more fleshed out so we can understand their past and motivations. Still, clues and outright violent actions are there, so if you're patient the pay off is pretty satisfying, so the wait is worth it. Plus, for all its initial subtlety it handles child's psychology, dysfunctional family and emerging delusions in a satisfying manner never going overboard, not having to spell everything out and maintaining the aura of impending doom. A very nice drama/horror for those who like it slow but effective. And those who enjoy the twist even if it's been spotted well before the revelation. And to all a good night!

Stung
(2015)

Stung?
Well, this is horrorcom, naturally one expects some laughs, some insane action, some over-the-top set pieces..well, we got about half of the last ingredient here. The problem is, humor is just not there, neither in situations nor in jokes, the characters kinda drag through better part of the film awkwardly, not quite knowing what to say, or what kind of stunt to pull. Then, we have Mist-esqu insects galore, but that doesn't quite work out either. This flick can't decide what famous horror to pay its homage to, is it already mentioned Mist, Shaun of the Dead (through main guy who looks and acts very similar to Shaun - Simon Pegg) or Alien - during the final part.

Lance Henriksen is there - why, yes he is, and he elegantly works his way through undemanding role of a small town's Mayor, but the charisma is effortlessly present. Same can't be said for our young duo of caterers that just can't catch their lucky career break, and are falling in love while all hell breaks loose. Actually, Matt O'Leery (Paul) does his best and gets there while his partner, Jessica Cook (Julia) just kinda exists...yeah. Sorry guys, the flick, up to this point, is as dead as the party that's just about to get somewhat more interesting...but not overly so.

Effects and cinematography are very decent, but mostly generic story, sans decent laughs, motivation and chemistry between characters waters the whole thing down. This is not a bad watch, and it does picks up in the last..hmm forth of the film, but it's just not enough to make it a memorable, bloody, suspenseful and funny experience. And that's what every good horror comedy's about...or so I've heard. Passable, but nothing to write home about. OK, so it does have some good ol' splatter, nice fx and bloodshed, but...Sorry to report, I've not been stung by it.

Musarañas
(2014)

Oh the Guilt!
A long anticipated Spanish horror for me, with a strange name and great cast, Shrew's Nest lived up to my expectations. Spanish love residential chillers, and this one proved to be no exception. With one twist, it's centered around agoraphobic woman and her younger sister, their relationship and turmoil, which will lay foundation for grief to come.

Macarena Gomez plays the role of troubled Montse, left to care and provide for her much younger sister after their parents have passed away, a bit too early. She has a severe case of agoraphobia, heightened by her overwhelming guilt which is not rooted 'in nomine patris' only but also her difficult childhood made unbearable by her strict, religious father. The father, played by ever malevolent Luis Tosar sometimes appears as a hallucination, a superego, relentless critic during Montse's attacks and crisis.

Catholic upbringing, the conservative, post war 50s and Montse's strange illness are bread and butter of the story. Macarena Gomez plays the demanding role well, she is sometimes OTT but from her every move, obsession or thought her past and fixations shine through.

Some might argue this is a Spanish version of Misery, misery is plentiful indeed, and indeed the main character displays some traits that are very 'out there'. The lead actress reminded me more of Bette Davis than Kathy Bates, in all honesty, as she had displayed certain mannerism but the familiar facial features as well.

How do you play agoraphobic - turned psychotic, anyway? These areas of human behavior and neurotic disorders have seldom been successfully caught on film. I can name but two others, but here it serves a vessel to tell the story and paint the character's background. Montse's acting out might seem 'loco' and far-fetched. She has much bigger problems than being unable to leave the house, though, her rage and high strung personality affects her sister, 'la nina' whose name we don't get to learn, herself and everyone she comes in contact with.

But suddenly, Montse meets a man, wants out, she wants love but the superego - eternal critic - has 'forbidden' her to live so she built giant coffin out of their apartment and buried herself in it. By pure chance and 'courtesy' of the nextdoor neighbor, Montse takes a glimpse at the world she has forsaken and abandoned, he reminds her of the possibility of love, desire and a will to free herself, but these new found urges come with a price: and she may be too far gone for normal life.

The cinematography? Well, it is Spanish, isn't it? Only top notch visuals, and great atmosphere awaits you here. Drama - like qualities get abruptly interrupted by the violence and gore, very nice and somewhat shocking scenes get things going and escalating after a relatively slow build.

This is a tale about shrews, mole - like rodents who live their life away from the spotlight and stay hidden from the public eye. And the overwhelming grief that has turned destructive for everyone involved. 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(2014)

Dead Girl Walking
This was one of the most anticipated art-house horror films. The fact it's done in Persian with Iranian director and crew absolutely peeks every filmophile's interest. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding it sometimes works against anticipated releases like this, but the wait was worth it.

A Girl Walks Home...was heavily influenced by Jim Jarmusch's aesthetic, like a love letter to this director. A vampire western with a touch of romance - something I haven't seen before. Let's see if this unusual combination worked... The last few years were great for vampire subgenre, reviving it with a few films that have became instant favorites and, in my opinion, deserve their place in film history.

Let The Right One In and Only Lovers Left Alive are notable examples, and now A Girl has joined them, forming fantastic trinity of style, ideas, cinematography and unparalleled atmosphere. Modern vampire subgenre works best in authentic urban surroundings, with as little action sequences as possible, focusing on loneliness, inner turmoil of the characters, existentialism and sometimes unlikely companionship between humans and vamps. A Girl has it all, adding extra cultural layer to these key ingredients.

Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive have set vampire tale in Western and Eastern world both, and A Girl... paints excerpts of Iranian life. (Although filmed in California) the rest is authentic. This black&white picture offers style and atmosphere, quiet, meditative and rarely violent, it's filled with music and shadows. There is a running thread of social commentary although the town and premise are fictional.

Mysterious titular 'Girl' in fictional town named 'Bad Town' stalks the residents quietly, watching them go about their routines, helping the weak and good, punishing the crooked and corrupt. We know absolutely nothing about The Girl, but there is a pattern...unlike women in Iran, she has a certain, albeit supernatural power, and she uses it to punish men who have bullied others and wallowed in vices. Even if I'm only reading into this, I thought this was liberating in the context of the culture that's old and rich but traditionally repressive against women.

However, The Girl is not some feminist vigilante fixing to destroy the mankind, just like Eli in Let the Right One In, she protects those in need. Unlike Eli, The Girl does not look for symbiotic relationship with disposable humans, the companionship she forms with Arash is of different nature. Big shout out to Masuka the cat, the talent and screen presence is fantastic and adorable. One lovely and immersing cinematic experience, bravo, Miss Amirpour!

Grzeli nateli dgeebi
(2013)

Spring is Here Again
Loved this honest film, talking about 90s Georgia, another ex communist country that felt the urge to face its painful past by leaving cinematic testimony of the difficult times. Poverty, social unrest, every day struggle to make ends meet. I'm only surprised this films hasn't come out sooner, but in all honesty, I don't know much about Georgian cinema...so I might have missed earlier social dramas of the kind.

It's a spring/summer time in Tbilisi, the nature is in bloom, connected nicely to life and unrest of the blooming youth. And so much poverty and misery! Apparent in the run down buildings, school, houses, everywhere you go traces of decay follow. And we follow lives of two female leads, 14 year old girls Eka and Natia and their friends/family. Just normal teens during abnormal times...something the first world have never experienced at this scale and probably never will.

The themes of domestic violence that coincides with violence on bigger plan, having your school crush hand you a gun as a present, walking around with the gun, bringing it to school without teachers noticing or caring, being abducted, deflowered and forced to marry at the age of 14 just doesn't sound like your standard society.

But to contrast the violence and omnipresent misery: the world and all the light outside really made a huge impression on me, the beauty of nature against the ugliness of run down communist architecture and rude, nervous behavior of people...so much unrest, and such a still world outside the window,outside society. Seasons shift, governments change, wars end, but nature is always in bloom and relentlessly luscious in spring. As is youth...it should not be depraved of the pleasure of enjoying themselves while the turbulent but sweet youthful years last. Looks like Eka, Natia and others were not as lucky. They were forced to grow up prematurely, much earlier than they should have, than anybody should. Very good film, and important testimony. Nice job!

Sil jong
(2009)

Missing....Something
I feel as my current rating says it all, and I'm the fan of revenge thrillers.

Korean revenge thrillers are usually gory, exploitative, mean spirited; sometimes over the top but the production, ideas and fun factor are on par. What has happened here?

OK, so it was gritty and grimy in parts, but what else? Pretty poor execution and weak story line as far as revenge thrillers go. I felt it was uninspired and just dull while trying to catch up with better genre entries.

The psycho killer looks like an old lady, our heroine lacks a few dozen pounds...how're these two underwhelming people going to hold the film on their shoulders, and better yet, provide some memorable and obligatory confrontation(fight) scenes? Even infamous police officers lacked much needed comedic skills, these people were just not funny and were very pale overall.

My attempts to relate to at least one character, smile or feel emotional now and then were barren...it just never happened. We have some typical pinku-type violence incorporated (abduction, rape, torture) but it just isn't pushing the right buttons. Sure, like already mentioned, some of it was unpleasant, as expected, but far from the level this genre has gotten us used to. Maybe I'm spoiled by much more effective, slick and superior films in the same vein? Cartoonish and one dimensional misogynistic males, anorexic or bimbotastic females....very superficial and enough for average exploitation flick, but for this genre, too simplistic and not good enough.

But, as far as (mostly off screen) violence it delivers occasionally, so not all's lost... Uninspiring and non charismatic leads, and unsatisfying ending combined with at least a couple of stupid calls and secondary characters that don't add up to tension, plot or anything much, grants this generic and forgettable picture an average score...lacks the impact, vision and the direction superior films of the ilk have...well, we can't all excel at what we do, can we?

Återträffen
(2013)

Society
Simple, almost documentary style of this film really adds up to realism, as if easily relatable story wasn't realistic enough. Painfully so, for those with similar experiences that had plagued their school years. And those who knew a guy that knew a guy alike...It's very 'dogmatic' in approach, as far as goals, psychological portrayal and cinematography goes.

The opening tricks us into believing Anna's project was a real deal, and only later we get to learn the timeline of events. In fact, apart from the basic premise, whole world of characters opens up slowly, but the pace remains brisk and on point. The Reunion never wanders or drifts off, it stays focused on the protagonist, her project, estranged schoolmates and her adult life as famous artist.

Universal theme of peer violence/bullying and very sharp insight into social hierarchy (especially apparent in its rawest during formative, school years) are nicely captured, however, for those hoping for typical filmsy 'revenge' scenario, this film might seem unsatisfying and anticlimactic. Because it was going for realism, and haven't lost the focus at any time.

Lots of close-ups of the faces during interviews Anna was conducting for the project with her former classmates, lots of awkward dialogues and confrontations. What strikes me is how much people actually change while trying to fit in and fill the adult's shoes. So, instead of being honest and emotionally open - albeit insensitive or cruel while doing so....the former child now adult caters to mentality and cultural patterns fully, becomes hypocritical, polite and nice while basically still shunning and isolating the unpopular people and keeping them out of their inner circle just as before. In much more sophisticated and appropriate manner, cause they learned manners and became civilized adults with little to no recollection of their former selves.

Bullying aside...in such highly civilized society such as this, one has a hard time picturing successful people with developed social skills and even temper, very PC - such as Anna's former classmates - as once primitive bunch who were relentlessly hellbent on humiliating and ostracizing their peer. Oh how much we learn!

Not really, if only how to lie and mask our resentment and hostility better. Basically, how to act appropriately. But basic instincts, goals don't change that much. What does change is execution.

But Anna's film and her 'revenge' unmasks the people and while exorcising her own demons she confronts the culprits subjecting them to long buried picture of themselves and their friends. That's not how they want to see themselves, that is not what they are now, not how they'd like to be remembered. Well, you can'd undo, but can try and fix the past mistakes, if you can face them. If you perceive them as wrongdoings at all. Sometimes I think...we never really leave high school, do we?

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
(2014)

Batman
We've seen a few Hollywood's self aware and cynical self criticisms in a form of film. Inside look into industry, the heroes and the victims, the "I'm tiny and unimportant on a grand scale of things"...but rarely so much fun as this.

I was a sceptic. The subject did not appeal to me particularly, I do not care about comic book heroes and washed up actors very much. But I do care about what Inarritu has to offer, as he had rarely disappointed in his fruitful career.

Then there is (almost forgotten) Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in supporting role. I needn't know much more than that to peak my interest. Let's focus on "Birdman" (Riggan) to start off this brilliant satire. "That was back in 1992", Keaton says, referring to Birdman character in one of his externalized communications with his alter ego, at one point. What else was back in '92? Batman Returns, starring Mr Keaton himself. So, I'm focusing on real life references here, Keaton is playing himself, Birdman=Batman. I thought that was startling and pretty obvious irony, and Keaton has played along perfectly. The role was written for him, as it seems. This actor could do comedy, action and character roles, and he 's still got it.

Apart from all this, Riggan himself was kind of hard to relate to. Unlike Norton's character, this guy was very secluded, he's got quirk and is exhibitionist by nature, but his private world does not get shared with other people. He's crazy, he's entertainer but he isn't approachable. Let's face it...dude's not all there. But he's himself, and dealing with it.

Norton, on the other hand, provides great comedic relief, you must have know people like him, you might even be him! He's method actor, going for hyper realism on stage, lives for acting but shares very little in his private life. Just a real person. Very natural actor, does his thing with unbelievable lightness.

A shout out for Zach Galifianakis, such subtle, completely restrained and toned down, yet very likable role for him. And for the ladies, Stone, Watts and others provided big support with what little space they had within their characters.

Editing is absolutely insane in parts, you see the world through actors' eyes, and it's fast and furious, while preparing to go on stage and do their thing. Score: blasting jazz drumming was a character for itself, stressing tense and important moments as seen through Riggan's perspective. Felt like I wandered off and found myself in the middle of "Whiplash" at times. Took me a while to get used to music as character (apparition) itself.

Took me a while to get with the program, really! Something that seems so complex, let's call it "pretentious" for lack of a better word and the lack of understanding, shall we, it sure sucks you in: using bunch of well known entertainment industry references, social issues, referencing real world and all the hip stuff you need to do, or have to be to get noticed, to exist.

Absolutely modern, facing the issues and raising questions that are relevant, what is art, how thick is the line between what's "fun" and what's "philosophical, talky bull****", can a role define an actor, a person...Are we allowed to change, to grow, to rise above ourselves and our established social roles. Who are film and theater critics, and what are those people risking while staying in shades and observing, not moving forward, just being there, nothing to lose, nothing to gain. Perpetuum mobile of pop culture.

It's like a swarm, I swear it resembled one, the whole atmosphere, just very frantic. Can't help but to ask yourself, what does it take to desire a place under spotlight, be a part of this hectic world. It's alluring, glamorous, absolutely seducing, ordinary people feel it too. So, Birdman's underneath all the show biz satire, big questions and overview just that, a personal story, another day at work, theater, home, restaurant...another day in ever beating heart of the city and under its lights. A day in life, less ordinary but one nonetheless... Truth or dare? Dare....

Deo pa-i-beu
(2013)

The Five
Eun-A has a loving family, she's creative and happy go lucky. Unfortunately, she and her daughter cross path with serial killer who tracks them down and kills her husband and daughter. Severely beaten and left for dead Eun-A miraculously survives this savage attack, and now the only thing that keeps her going - mentally and physically damaged - is a dream of revenge.

But, handicapped and weak she can't pull this off by herself, so she decides to gather a group of outcasts, each one with a specific skill to find the killer, each of them having one thing in common: members of their family (daughter, mother, wife) are on organ transplant waiting list. She gives them the proposal they can't pass on.

At first none of those people trust one another, but having heard Eun- A's story they finally break, and agree to help her. And so, five ordinary people, heavily burdened by their personal problems and tragedies team up to catch sleazy, skillful and psychopathic murderer. In the edge-of-the seat cat and mouse game which will keep you emotionally engaged while rooting for this bunch.

Hard to believe this is Jung Yeon-Sik's first feature, it's directed with skill and confidence, production is top, as expected for revenge thriller, genre that surpasses other Korean cinema output in production values and popularity overseas.

As per usual, we have the full package here, film contains action, comedy (provided once again by lazy and incompetent law enforcement officers), lots of violence, drama, mystery. Lovely Kim Sun-A (Eun-A) is the star of this film as tragic heroine but the whole cast did a convincing job, especially robust and likable Ma Dong-Seok (Azooma, The Flu). I have to give props to our antagonist, chilling, cold, demented, teen idol type, On Joo-Wan as Jae-Wook, pretty boy killer, a rising star artist. With a dark secret and specific "artistic" vision that cost people their lives. And Park Hyo-Joo (Hye-Jin) good Samaritan, Eun-A's tragic friend and sidekick, comedic relief with small, but touching role.

Excellent, engaging film, real emotional roller coaster, highly recommended.

Eom-ma-neun Chang-nyeo-da
(2009)

Mother is a Whore
Sometimes, bombastic film title doesn't correlate with the actual content. But here, expect straight to point, sickening, heavy taboo drama.

Sang woo lives in a slum with his disabled mother who works as a prostitute in order to provide for both of them. So, we have 60 year old prostitute and her pimp son with AIDS. That is one part of the story. Another part of family psychopathology is Sang Woo's biological father who had left them and started new life with young mother of two teens - his new wife is incidentally religious fanatic to boot.

Compared to life Sang and his mother lead this family looks normal: living in middle class apartment, father owns his own business, and appears to be stand up guy. But, his step son is hikkomori, step daughter hates her family, seeks solace in alcohol and appears infatuated with Sang Woo.

Never expect normalcy in this film. Director Sang Woo Lee (also playing main character here) is hellbent on ripping family values, human decency to shreds, and if that doesn't do it, feed those shreds to pigs. Not the most graphic, but hard hitting film you'll have trouble getting out of your head: what has been seen cannot be unseen type of deal. Violence is not ever-present, but when it is, it's devastating. While waiting for another outburst or violent episode to happen, there's grim, bleak and depressing atmosphere throughout that makes your breathing stop at times. So much misery here!

Sang Woo Lee looks to be following Kim Ki Duk's footsteps, but taking matters to further extremes. To those with strong stomach, I recommend this heartbreaking film and pay attention to its director: he ain't done destroying humanity and family ideals just yet: Mother is a Whore is first part of his Family trilogy. The other two (especially latest one) promise even bleaker picture and more (in)human drama which just might kill your spirit for a spell if you let your guard down. Actually, forget defense mechanisms, it most definitely will.

Budjenje iz mrtvih
(2005)

Better off Dead
Awakening from the Dead is very personal, enclosed and introverted testimony of the times passed...not so long ago. I think it took a great deal of resolution and personal courage to deliver such an uncompromising work, cause it's not exactly a stepping stone or lucrative project, imo...not that director of Radivojevic's caliber needs reasserting himself.

This film is basically an extension of famous Black Yugoslav wave several decades later. Hard film to analyze due to dream (or nightmare) like mood, non linear narration and surrealism, it deals with the concept of the dead being able to come back to life so they can tend to unfinished business and visit friends and family.

How exactly Mickey (the protagonist) met his death wasn't clear from the start nor were the circumstances surrounding it. He simply and literally gets up from his grave and goes back to his old life: places of youth, parental home, the flat where he had lived with his wife and son and hometown, to visit old childhood friends. However, this is just a vessel to tell a broader story and soon the symbolism gets abandoned in favor of central idea: social critique and personal reflections on the political and spiritual turmoil the country (Serbia) had faced during those times.

The amount of body waste (puking, urinating, defecating) - banality of being alive - in this film (including one very unpleasant dream sequence) is startling and in contrast with the supernatural premise. The film is talky, not shying away from loud ideology and politics. Central figure, next to Mickey is his father, or rather relationship between the two which is underlined and will ultimately define this film, like in classic tragedies.

Surely, Radivojevic, by the looks of it, felt obliged to make this film and tell his version of the events during the difficult times. Perhaps even - compelled. The cinematography is harsh, black and white, heavy and depressing, lest for Mickey's young family's nest, the only place of light and color. Personal and stripped just like the characters - quite literally. Nothing short of few rounds of applause for the cast, all of the actors involved did marvelous job, just breathtaking and top notch.

One thing has dawned on me afterward....this is A Serbian Film before ASF. Not the same genre, or the same league, but it does bear some strong resemblance as far as motives and conclusion goes. Definitely more serious though. Not an easy one to recommend to casual viewer and not an easy one to rate. But an interesting, if not exactly entertaining experience and sadly, underseen.

Late Phases
(2014)

Of Vets and Wolves
I always loved grumpy old guys in films, and after Eastwood's Kowalski there was little left to desire...till Damici's Ambroze Mckinley stepped into the picture in Bogliano's latest feature.

Bogliano's something of a curious case, he never limits himself to one or two subgenres the man does it all. Secretly though, he loves comedy! So Late Phases are laced with subtle and quirky comedy aspects, it never takes itself too seriously. Normally, the abundance of humor in a horror flick is major offense by me, but here, it simply works.

Elderly, blind vet moves to retirement community on the edge of a forest to spend the rest of his days in peace, but as he quickly learns, there's trouble lurking in front of residents' lawns killing them quickly and efficiently.

Ambrose McKinley doesn't waste too much time investigating, instead he instantly figures out the root of this evil and does his own prepping in order to face the threat. And so it goes....small close knit community shows its true colors and Ambrose gets the chance to face the enemy in no time...

Cheesy creature feature, far and between but loud and clear gore don't sound inviting? How about Tom Noonan in supporting role - the trade he's mastered during his long career? Great cinematography, perhaps a bit off pace now and then, but patched up and ready to proceed with good action sequences and surprising dynamics withing community. I'd call this a throwback although the cinematography is authentically modern, effects, creature feature and humor resemble 80's flicks.

Weird, offbeat but never dull, this is quite original werewolf film, first remarkable wereflick after Ginger Snaps, in my opinion.

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