The Mirror (2014) eBay Meets Paranormal Activity (Review)

The Mirror screen shot

The Mirror is essentially eBay meets “Paranormal Activity” in an English flat (apartment).  A found footage film that features a haunted mirror bought on Ebay. Three friends team up to film the thing for a million dollar contest.  Things obviously begin to go wrong but at such as slow uninteresting pace that the viewer struggles to maintain interest.

Written and directed by Edward Boase the film starts with the friends excited at the prospect of winning the grand prize and dealing with a haunted object.  The mirror is delivered that they hang it on the wall.

Matt (Joshua Dickinson)  is the first of the friends to be affected but the mirror and his state of mind and behavior changes over time. Jemma (Jemma Dallender) is initially angry at her boyfriends awkward attitude. This changes to concern over time though.  Steve (Nate Fallows) is the cameraman who really wants something to happen so they can win the big prize. 

It begins with Matt sleepwalking and standing in front of the mirror for so long he wets himself. He then continues to sleepwalk through the flat while wearing a GoPro camera strapped to his chest.  Matt refuses to show the footage to either Steve or Jemma.

The Mirror does eventually   speed up but by that time the audience really have lost interest.  (Although the attempted attack on the path is effectively done.) The main problem is that apart from the emphasis on kitchen knives the movie really is Paranormal Activity but in a flat with one bedroom and a box room.

The use of “unknowns” in the key roles was a good move. Sadly events throughout most of the film are far too low-key. Then the  three protagonists spend far too much time bickering and it is distracting and annoying.

In many ways the film can be considered a triumph.  Filmed on a shoestring budget of £20,000 The Mirror was influenced by the true story of two flatmates who salvaged a haunted mirror from a rubbish skip. The men were tormented by bumps in the night and physical attacks, in the forms of scratches.

The story inspired Edward Boase but unfortunately, presumably due to the low budget, opted for the found footage format.

(It should be mentioned that on IMDb someone mentions the use of pepper spray or “OC” spray as a deterrent in one scene. These type of defense sprays are illegal in the United Kingdom.   The spray  used was would most likely have been deodorant or body spray.)

The Mirror does end on a “high” note but uses subtitles far too similar to Paranormal Activity and loses its edge as a result.  The effects, for such a low budget feature, are pretty impressive.  Sadly the slow pace and the meandering storyline take away from the effectiveness of the ending.

This is Ed Boase’s second feature length film and in terms of putting the whole thing together proves that this is a director to keep an eye on.  Hopefully his next inspired film will be a bit faster on the uptake.

This low/no budget horror film is a 3 star film. It earns a higher rating due to the performances and the fact that it does pick up at the end. Streaming on Netflix at the moment, fans of found footage may have a look.

 

Estranged (2015) Gothic Horror Returns to Its Roots – Review

Amy Manson as January in Estranged

Directed by Adam Levins from a screenplay by Simon Fantauzzo (who co-wrote the original story with William Borthwick) “Estranged” features some of the best of British in this Gothic horror returned to the genre’s roots.  James Cosmos, Craig Conway,  Nora-Jane NooneEileen NicholasJames Lance  and Amy Manson  star in this dark, twisted  and oddly intimate horror film.

Starting in Brazil; January (Manson) and her boyfriend Callum (Simon Quarterman) are riding a motor scooter in Rio and get into an accident. She ends up in a wheelchair suffering from amnesia. With nowhere else to go, January and Callum go to her home. 

The crippled woman left six years previously and is apparently estranged from her family.  Once the couple arrive things get strange rather quickly.  The rundown mansion has moldy walls in the bathroom and the house is falling apart. Yet the family can afford to retain a butler.

January can remember nothing about her childhood and her father Albert (Cosmos) dislikes Callum. One day her boyfriend disappears and  January’s life takes a a severe downswing.  At first her mum Marilyn (Nicholas), sister Katherine (Noone) and brother Lawrence (Lance) continue to act like her family.

Later, a guilt stricken Thomas (Conway) reveals the truth to January who then tries to escape.  She is made a prisoner in her own home and her life becomes a living hell.

Levins makes “Estranged” more than just intimate. The film is claustrophobic and cloying. Manson’s character is run through the wringer. As the story progresses her trials continue to get worse and she discovers that what she has been told is not true.

Conway is brilliant as the servant who has obviously been beaten into submission by Albert. Cosmos, as the bullish patriarch, is massive and powerful looking and acts like an alpha male on steroids.

The film’s pace is languid to the point of standing still in places but it is necessary. It makes January’s predicament not only disturbing but frustrating as well. This oddball family, so determined to control her every move are strange and annoying. Gradually the theme bypasses strange and enters firmly into the world of the weirdly scary.

As events slowly play out the viewer guesses at what must really be going on in this quirky  country estate where everyone seems to be a more disturbing version of either the Addams family or criminally insane.

When the truth is finally revealed things are worse than imagined and the ending is fitting, if not a little unsatisfying.  In a nutshell, this film allows its stars to shine. Cosmos is scary as hell and Conway plays against type to be the most sympathetic character in the film.

Noone is at turns disturbing and childlike while Lance is just creepy full stop.   Eileen Nicholas is also spot on as the doting mother who has definitely seen better days.  Her Marilyn is spacey and disconnected to everything going on around her.

Manson goes through hell  in this film and it is all too easy to imagine the actress being covered in bruises for some time after shooting the feature.

The lighting and camera work combine to make the film look dark and claustrophobic.  “Estranged”  is a cracking horror film that, while slow, does hit all the right marks and delivers in the end. A full four  stars for this one,  missing the fifth as the pace really is a tad too slow at times. Streaming on Netflix at the moment in the US but not easily found due to the awkward category browsing system.

Watch this one and see why British horror is some of the best in the world.

Black Death (2010): Could be Called Bleak Death

Black Death (film)
Black Death (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by  Dario Poloni (the man who penned the brilliant film Wilderness) and directed by Christopher Smith (Severance, Triangle, Creep) and staring Sean Bean (Black Death,The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Eddie Redmayne (The Good Shepard, My Week with Marilyn), Carice van Houten (Repo Men, Intruders), John Lynch (The Secret Garden, Sliding Doors), and Tim McInnerny (Severance, Notting Hill).

With a pedigree this impressive it seems like Black Death  could deliver entertainment in spades and it does. It is an incredibly bleak film for all it’s big name cast and crew. The message that director Smith is apparently sending is that people react the same way to terrible events whether they are in days of ‘olde’ or now.

The film opened to positive reviews and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a “certified fresh” rating. But looking at the box office returns from their opening weekend, it appears that audiences did not share the critics feelings about the film. I am assuming that the DVD sales will up their take. Interestingly, neither IMDB nor Wikipedia  lists their budget.

Set in 1348 in an England being decimated by the plague that was known as the ‘black death’ we see a young monk, Osmond (Redmayne).   He resides at a monastery under the tutelage of  the Abbot (David Warner) for all things spiritual and for all things of the flesh a young girl named Averil (Kimberley Nixon). When Osmond discovers that the plague has breeched the monastery walls he tells Averill to leave and head for the sanctuary of the nearby forest.

Averill does not want to leave Osmond behind and says that she will wait in a clearing every morning for a week for him to follow her. After she leaves a group of men lead by a knight appointed by the Bishop of the Church arrives. The knight Ulrich (Sean Bean) is looking for a village that is rumoured to be free of the plague and of God. The village is worshipping a demon and necromancer and the Church wants this group of ‘holy crusaders’ to kill the demon and necromancer and bring the body to the church.

Ulrich asks the Abbot for a volunteer who knows the area to lead them to the village on the other side of the marshes. Osmond, who has been praying for a sign from God, volunteers (much to the Abbot’s dismay) and the group depart.

This ‘rag-tag’ group of holy enforcers are grim, battle scarred and, on the surface, not a bit holy. But working on the principle of might makes right, this little ‘God’ squad feel like they are invincible. Only Ulrich appears to be the real deal, a true believer in the Church and God. His right hand man is Wolfstan (John Lynch) and his most ardent supporter is Swire (Emun Elliott).

Omond and Ulrich talking theology.

Their first day out of the monastery they interrupt a group of peasants about to burn a ‘witch’ alive. Osmond interferes and Ulrich steps in to release the unfortunate woman. Taking her away from the group he slits her throat. Walking past Osmond, he tells him, “Don’t stop again.”

When the group reach the edge of the forest they camp for the night. Osmond wakes up before the rest and goes to find Averill. Finding her horse and a trail of bloody clothes instead, he is consumed with grief. While he is clutching the bloody rags, he sees a large group of armed men and he runs back to the camp yelling out a warning.

Bloody battle commences and  one of the holy group is killed defending Osmond, who is himself wounded, and the remaining group of thieves who attacked the camp steal Ulrich’s horses and ride off. Ulrich forces Osmond to continue leading the group and they cross the marsh.

Arriving at the village, they are greeted by Hob (Tim McInnerny) and warmly welcomed. The village’s leader and healer is Langiva (Van Houten) and she treats Osmond’s wound with a miraculous salve that stops his pain almost instantly. Despite the groups suspicions and misgivings they join the villagers in a welcoming feast.

Osmond follows Langiva outside where she leads him to a spot in the woods. There she ‘raises’ Averill from the dead for Osmond. He runs away terrified by what he has just witnessed. When he returns to the hall he finds the holy enforcers have been drugged and he is knocked out.

Langiva the healer.

The group awaken in a pit of water with their hands tied around poles that stretch across the pit. Langiva tells them that they must repent their God or die. Hob takes one of the men and kills him when he refuses.

Swire then says that he will renounce God. Hob removes him and Swire then publicly renounces God. Hob says that he is free to go and that some men will take him to the edge of the village. They do, but Swire will go no further as they kill him anyway.

Langvia then removes Osmond from the pit and sends him to a hut that contains Averill. When he enters Averill is coughing and spitting up what looks like blood. She is stabbing a table and the walls with a knife. She is clearly mad and Osmond kills her telling her that  they will be together soon.

Hob then takes out Ulrich and they tie him to two Punch horses. As the horses start to pull him apart he continues to refuse to repent his God. Before he dies he tells Osmond to open his shirt. Osmond does so and everyone discovers that Ulrich has the black death and he has brought it to the village.

Wolfstan and Mold (Johnny Harris) escape the pit and while the villagers are panicking start killing the men of the village. When the carnage ends only Wolfstan and Hob are left alive and Hob has been incarcerated for delivery to the church. Osmond chases after Langvia but loses her in the marshes.

Osmond is returned to the monastery and Wolfstan says he never saw him again, but has heard that Osmond became a ‘soldier of God’ and searched for evil. In a short montage we see that Osmond sees Langvia’s face on every woman that he accuses of being a witch and he executes them all.

This film is bleak and dark and grim. There are no little breaks from this bleak picture, no humorous let ups at all.  Despite this unrelenting attack of the viewer it is a good film. I enjoyed it, if enjoy is the right word to use, and felt that the acting from all was superb.

Osmond “witchfinder” General.

It was wonderful to see David Warner, although it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of him, and it was the first time I’d seen Tim McInnerny since Severance. I was also pleased to see  John Lynch again. He is a brilliant actor and I’ve loved his work since The Secret Garden.

I will say though that my hat is off to the casting director. How he managed to find an actor who is almost the spitting image of actor Klaus Kinski is beyond impressive. I checked IMDb and found that the actors name was Tygo Gernandt and even though he seems a bit tall to be a real dead ringer for Kinski, if they ever do a film of his life, Gernandt should play the lead.

English: Klaus Kinski, german actor, at the Ca...

The cinematography is crisp, clear and mood making. Smith’s direction and the films location all combined to make it work very well. So yes it was bleak, but considering the subject matter, you could hardly expect it to be anything else.

The Dark (2005) A Welsh Nightmare

Cover of "The Dark (2005)"

Adapted from the novel, Sheep by Simon Maginn (Stephen Massicotte wrote the screenplay) and directed by John Fawcett (Ginger Snaps, The Boys ClubThe Dark is a capable little horror film that delivers a fair amount of ‘jumps and scares.’

The Dark can also boast a capable cast, Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Ronin), Maria Bello (Payback, Secret Window), Sophie Stucky (The Woman in Black, Driving Aphrodite) and Maurice Roëves (The Damned UnitedBrighton Rock).

I will say that I could have done with seeing a bit more of Sean Bean and Maurice Roëves. Bean is a brilliant actor who exudes a sort of weathered charm who is, it seems, incapable of giving a poor performance no matter what film he is in. And Roëves, who appears to have been in more films than Carter has little films,  is one of those ‘jobbing’ actors who has the ability to make you believe that he is the character he’s portraying.

The film opens with Adèlle (Maria Bello) and Sarah (Sophie Stucky) driving in the  dark Welsh countryside. Adèlle is driving and map reading and Sarah is quiet. They are looking for husband/father James’ (Sean Bean) house and are a bit lost. They stop for the night and sleep in the car.

Upon awakening  Adèlle finds that Sarah is gone from the car. Looking out her window she see’s Sarah walking around a tall, almost triangular stone near the edge of a cliff. She goes to the stone to tell Sarah it’s time to go. Sarah disappears behind the stone and when Adèlle goes around to get her, she isn’t there. As she turns in confusion to look at the car for Sarah, a white faced and scary Sarah pushes her off the cliff’s edge.

As she is pushed off the cliff Adèlle wakes up with a start, it was a dream. She looks over to see Sarah still asleep in the passenger’s seat. The car is surrounded by sheep and they find that they were near James’s house already.

Dafydd

They drive to the house reunite with James and meet Dafydd the ‘handy-man.’ In a very short time we, the audience, learn that Sarah and mum Adèlle  have not been getting on, one repeating ‘flashback’ shows  Adèlle and Sarah arguing and Sarah getting slapped by mum. We also learn that: the stone is a commemorative monument to a group of cult followers who, following their leaders teachings, jump off the cliff edge; the house was the home of the cult leader; and that there is a dark past associated with the area where James lives.

Not even one third of the way into to the film, Sarah disappears from the seaside and is presumed drowned. While James and Dafydd (Maurice Roëves) are searching for the missing Sarah with the local authorities, Adèlle (who is consumed with guilt over her fight with Sarah) concentrates on a ‘girl’ she found in the old  Abattoir. The girl is Ebril and it’s not the first time that she has traded places with the living. Sarah’s ‘death’ has enabled Ebril to come back.

For all the good things about the film, the early scares and the quick build up of ominous happenings, the last quarter of the film almost ruins it’s impact.

James and Adèlle discover Ebril

The build up is done very well. The dream at the first of the film about the cliff’s edge, the sheep crowding Sarah to the edge of another cliff and then jumping over her to commit ‘sheep suicide’ are good signposts of what we think is going to come. But after Sarah disappears we are asked to do more than ‘suspend our disbelief.’ We are asked to buy into the films back-story and completely embrace it’s complex and fantastic myth.

Combining Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and Greek mythology the film’s back-story deals with the “swapping” of lives. The cult leader lost his daughter to the waves beneath the cliffs, known as “Annwyn” (Welsh for afterlife), and the legend is that if you get someone living to voluntarily sacrifice themselves to Annwyn then the loved one you’ve lost will be returned to you.

The cult leader talks his entire flock (except for Dafydd) into committing mass suicide and he gets his daughter, Ebril ( Abigail Stone) back. But like Pet Sematary’s returning dead, Ebril has brought something back with her that isn’t Ebril. Some dark and, presumably, evil thing. The cult leader winds up killing Ebril and it is she who took Sarah. Ebril is now back and under the guise of ‘helping’ Adèlle and James causes more problems.

Adèlle, after learning of the legend, takes Ebril to the cliff’s edge to push her off and get Sarah back. James interrupts her plan. In desperation she grabs Ebril and leaps off the cliff with her.

Adèlle after the fall.

Sarah comes back, but, like Ebril did before, she brings something else with her and Adèlle is trapped in Annwyn.

Right up to the point where Adèlle figures out how to get Sarah back the film had me. I felt that the film was delivering a good blend of ominous and eerie forebodings. I had no trouble ‘suspending my disbelieve.’ Unfortunately the film lost me when it dove off into Welsh “mythology” and the story of Ebril.

Still despite the disappointing ending the film was good. I feel that the ‘over-all’ enjoyment factor makes up for it’s somewhat fantastical ending. Definitely worth a look and I still think there should have been more Sean Bean.

Perhaps I should have read the book first.

Cover of "Sheep"
Cover of Sheep

Triangle (2009): If At First You Don’t Succeed

Written and directed by Christopher Smith Triangle is the third film that Smith donned two hats for as creator. The story follows Jess (Melissa George) single mum of an autistic child. We first see Jess dockside, she is going on a day-trip with a group of friends on a yacht. Jess seems a little out of it. Dazed and confused, when she is asked about her son, she responds in a very vague fashion. She boards the yacht and so begins our adventure.

Once they get out at sea they are hit by sudden electrical storm and the yacht capsizes. As they cling desperately to the boat, a ship approaches their stricken vessel. The group of five board the ship only to find it deserted. They decide to explore it to see if there is anyone on board the seemingly empty ship. Jess is plagued by a sense of Deja Vue and catches a glimpse of a masked figure.

While the Jess and co. are searching for other people, the masked figure is killing them off, one by one. Jess finally confronts the masked killer only to find that it is her. Jess dispatches  her masked self and dumps her body overboard. While doing this she sees the yacht and herself and her friends boarding the ship. Jess realizes that she has been caught in a time loop and that she must kill everyone quickly before the loop can repeat itself. When she seemingly does this, she discovers that she has apparently been caught in this loop over and over again.  As she kills each of her friends, however,  we can see that she has done this same thing before and by the pile of her friends bodies, she has done it a lot.

Jess escapes the boat and ends up back home where she observes herself interacting with her autistic son. Jess is horrified to see that she is not a good mother. She mistreats her son and is quite nasty to him saying that her life would be so much better without him in it. Jess then kills her other self and decides to bring her son with her on the yacht trip.

This film was brilliant.  While watching it, I would find myself guessing what would happen next only to realize that I was incorrect. The best I could do was figure out the Ground Hog Day aspect of the film but not the O. Henry ending. Melissa George was excellent in the film. And why wouldn’t she be. With a list of horror films under her belt, 30 Days of Night, Amityville Horror, Triangle, The Betrayed, A Lonely Place to Die, she is the new millenniums “Scream Queen”

Triangle opened to positive reviews. Unfortunately this was a case where the critics loved the film and the audience stayed away in droves. I don’t know why this film fared so badly with the audience. I saw the film after my daughter had seen it and then raved on about it non-stop until I said I would see it. After watching it I decided she was right to be so excited about the film. But the die had already been cast, because the DVD came out so quickly that I thought the distributors had made a mistake.

Triangle is a brilliant and tragic film. Watch it and you will not regret it.  Hell, you might even watch it again and again and…