Creep (2004): The London Underground Just Got Worse

Written and directed by Christopher Smith this was Smith’s first full length  feature film. He went on to make Severance (2006), the vastly superior Triangle (2009) and Black Death (2010) and he is currently directing a TV mini-series Labyrinth (2012). Starring Franka Potente –  Run Lola Run ,  The Bourne Identity . Given that the premise of the film, getting locked in the London Underground after hours, is not actually possible; it’s a good film nonetheless.

The film opened to a pretty lukewarm reception. The reviews were mostly mixed with  a tendency for most of them to be negative. Considering that the film actually accomplishes what it set out to do, scare the crap out of the audience, I feel that the poor reception was unwarranted. Franka Potente really sells the film. Her portrayal as the protagonist of the film is just what you would expect from this accomplished actress. I don’t know how Smith managed to get her for his film, but hat’s off to him for casting her.

The Readers Digest version of the plot is as follows: Girl sets out to meet George Clooney. She gets a bit wasted at the party she’s attending and winds up falling asleep on the Underground while on her way to meet George. A lecherous workmate tries to rape her. He is gorily dispatched by some unseen person. Girl spends most of the film trying to get out of the Underground, getting captured by the maniac killer and then trying to  not get killed by same. She escapes with the help of an underground maintenance worker. He is then killed while trying to defend the girl. She is the last [wo]man standing and defeats the killer. The subway opens up for the morning trade and she gets a hand out from a passer by who thinks she is a beggar.

I have of course left out the “backstory” of the maniac killer who haunts the underground. All said, it is a pretty good one. His name is Craig and he was kept in the underground in some sort of medical facility. He is Mentally Challenged. Somehow, even though the facility has closed, he has made his way back to the familiar surroundings. He now kills stragglers and other unfortunates in bizarre re-enactments of surgical procedures that he remembers from his past.

This is more than just your typical slasher film. Okay, you do have your villain or “boogey-man” who is damn near impossible to dispatch, but…It has a bit more going for it. Apart from the sexual predator workmate that attacks the girl (Kate) all the other character have been written well enough that we actually like them. As a consequence we actually care when they die. Most slasher films feature vapid miss-behaving teenagers who are so two dimensional they might as well be cardboard cut-outs. These teens also suffer lethal fates because they “break” the morality clause of their “Christian Contract,” you know, breaking certain basic Christian rules like:  pre-marital sex, smoking, drinking, drug taking, etc. Where a few of Craig’s victims are young, they are also not breaking the known rules. Although the two homeless people that Kate meets in the underground could fit that mould, but hey, they’re homeless, not some mindless vapid teen partying, drinking and trying to get laid.

The film does require you to suspend your disbelief, but if you cannot do that, then why are you watching a horror film?

28 Weeks Later (2008): Rage Squared

 

28 Days Later

I won’t lie. The main draw for me in this film was Robert Carlyle. I first saw him perform in Cracker he played a mentally unbalanced chap named Albie. He was completely believable in the roll.  I then saw him in the excellent Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, playing the scary Begbie. I became a life long fan as a result of his performances in those two films. So when I saw that he was going to be in 28 Weeks Later, I knew I had to see the film. He was the only reason, because Danny Boyle would not be in the driver seat for this iteration of the Rage saga.

Unfortunately the  small cozy feel  that  28 Days had is gone. It has been replaced with literally  hordes of people. I personally think the film  suffers because of this. It’s scope is wider and encompasses a broader area. These elements along with having a different director, changes the pacing,  feel and  direction of the film.

Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 28 Weeks Later starts with a couple, Don played by Robert Carlyle and Alice played by Catherine McCormack who are in a fortified farmhouse with four other people.  They are all essentially  trapped  and it appears that the Rage outbreak is alive and well and spreading across the country.

A horde of  infected  break into the house and start attacking everyone.  Don runs to the end of the hallway and climbs out a window.  He jumps down to the ground and looks up to see Alice looking out of the window and screaming for Don to help her. Don is in complete  flight mode, panicked and desperate, he runs to the river outside the farmhouse. Hot on his heels are hordes of infected and their number increases as Don gets near the river. At the river he gets in a motor boat and barely escapes the area.

28 weeks later, all the infected have starved to death. An American NATO task force has been dispatched to England to begin cleaning up the mess and repatriating people who were outside the country when the Rage epidemic swept the country. Alice and Don’s two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are among the first groups to be allowed back into the country. During a medical examination  Major Scarlet Ross (Rose Byrne) notices that Andy has different  one blue eye and one brown eye. Tammy and Andy explain that their mother also had different coloured eyes.
 Tammy and Andy  are reunited with their dad, Don. He lies and tells the children that he saw their  mother die.  Don also explains to the children that he is the head maintenance man for the safe zone and that he can access any area in the building.
Tammy and Andy  decide to sneak out and go to their old house to get some pictures of their Mother. They are seen by a sniper, Sergeant  Doyle (Jeremy Renner) who reports that the children have left the  area.   Once  the two children  get home  they find more than a picture,  they find Mum . Miraculously still alive she has somehow made her way back . Just as Mum and the kids find each other, the Army arrives and takes them all  back to the safe area. All three are placed in quarantine and Mum is separated from the children and has tests done to see if she is infected.
Both Tammy and Andy are furious with Dan and want to know what really happened. Dan is in a state of shock and says that the children have no idea what it like during the outbreak. He then goes to see Alice using his all area pass. Meanwhile Scarlett has discovered that Alice is carrying the virus but is not showing any of the symptoms.
Don enters Alice’s quarantine area and begs her to forgive him for  running away.  Alice  does and they share a kiss. As the saliva comes in contact with his lips, Don is instantly infected. The virus screams through his system and he kills Alice with his bare hands. Don then single handedly sets about infecting the safe zone.
At this point in the film we  sense that, like a house of cards, the safe zone is going to fall apart.  The virus shoots through the facility with the speed and violence of a tornado. Scarlett grabs Tammy and Andy and they make a run for it. Along the way they pick up Sgt Doyle and the small group try to get out of the now infected safe zone.
Throughout the rest of the film Don unrelentingly goes after Andy. I don’t know if this is because he shares his mothers  eye colours  or some other reason. It is never explained in the film. What is apparent however, it that just about every occupant of the safe zone is now infected. Before Doyle gets taken out of the picture by a flame thrower, another sniper  arranges  for a helicopter to collect the small group of survivors.
The film is very well paced, but I felt that Robert Carlyle was the most interesting thing in the film. That is not to say the film isn’t good, it just isn’t as great as the first one.  Losing Danny Boyle meant losing that sharp focus and intense feeling that 28 Days later had in spades.
Still if you are a Carlyle fan, it is worth the time spent watching the film just to see his performance.

Eden Lake (2008) A White Knuckle Ride

Eden Lake

Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone) this tale of two young professional urbanites going to the countryside and running into “hoodies from Hell” is a tour de force of white knuckle moments and wincing violence. Watkins uses the film to make a topical statement about juvenile crime‘s increase in the UK and who is responsible for it.

 Kelly Reilly and  Michael Fassbender play the young professional couple Jenny and Steve. Steve has set up a romantic weekend at a lake he remembers from his childhood, It is secluded and a perfect spot for him to propose to his nursery teacher girlfriend. Arriving at the lake, Steve finds that the whole area is to be bulldozed and turned into houses for the “Yuppie” market. He also finds the the secluded area is obviously not so secluded as a gang of local kids seem to be using the area to hang out.
Steve is not best pleased by the appearance of the noisy neighbourhood kids and their dog. Jenny wants to move to another quieter area, but Steve is adamant that they are going to stay. He goes over to the group and asks them to move on. This idea is met with derision and hostility. It is also an open invitation for the youngsters to start harassing the young couple.
Little darlings...not.
Little darlings…not.
The harassment starts with the group just being noisier, before moving off sometime in the middle of the night.  After waking Steve and Jenny find the food they brought has been invaded by insects. They decided to go into town for a meal and to buy provisions. As the couple drive off, they run over something left by the kids and get a flat tire.
Steve replaces the tire and they drive to a cafe in town. While eating their meal they see the kids from the lake in town. Steve asks the waitress if she knows the kids as he wants to talk to their parents about the tire. The waitress becomes very defensive and says, “My kids would never do that.”
Things between the kids and the young couple escalate. Steve angrily confronts the children and one of them takes out a knife. Steve struggles with the boy and during the struggle accidentally kills one of the boy’s dog. The leader of the pack, a lad called Brett (played brilliantly by Jack O’Connell) who is visibly upset, tells Steve and Jenny to go. Steve tries to apologise for the killing of the dog, but the children ignore him.
Steve and Jenny decide they have had enough and start to leave. Brett, however has had a change of heart and has now decided that his gang are going to exact retribution for the death of the dog. So begins a heart pounding, cringe making attack by the children and Steve and Jenny’s attempt to escape.
Deadly hide and seek.
Deadly hide and seek.
James Watkins is another of those British directors that specialises in writing and directing low budget films that grip you. Made in 2008. Eden Lake takes a look at what was considered by  many to be a frighting increase in juvenile crime. The new millennium saw the emergence of the hoodie.
These hooded sweatshirts were the common uniform sported by gangs and other juvenile delinquents who had no problems breaking the law. Their emergence coincided with the courts in England becoming so lenient in terms of punishment for juvenile offenders that law abiding citizens started to fear these young criminals. Watkins’ message seems to be that it is the parents who are to blame.
This film is not easy to watch. I found myself repeatedly getting angry at the “grown-up” characters and their annoying combination of naivety and belief that, until the end, they could solve it all by talking. The calibre of performances was top notch. The location they chose for filming was spot-on, it looked like your average English town.
In fact there is a pub in the film that is a spitting image of a pub outside of Norwich, Norfolk. My daughter and I shiver every time we drive past it and I can’t help but drive a little bit faster.
Not your local friendly village pub.
Not your local friendly village pub.

The Glass House (2001): Teen Troubles

Cover of "The Glass House"
Cover of The Glass House

Teenager Ruby Baker is out on the town and past her curfew. As she says goodbye to her friend and explains that she is going to be in trouble again for being late she hurriedly leaves. While this is going on, her parents are in a car crash and both of them die. She arrives home to find two policemen in her home. When they try to tell her about her parents, she faints.

The beginning of this film leaps into action. Before the first reel has been changed over by the projectionist, Ruby and her younger brother Rhett have been orphaned and now must live with their old neighbours acting as their guardians. The ‘best friends’ have moved to a huge glass house in an exclusive area. This will be their new home.

Once the two children move into the glass mansion, things  start getting strange and it seems the ‘old friends’ have changed from the nice people that used to live next door.

While not anywhere near blockbuster territory, The Glass House delivers very well. For a start Tom Hanks‘s missus Rita Wilson is in an uncredited cameo that must surely classify as the smallest in the world. Ms Wilson plays Ruby and Rhett’s mother and dies roughly about ten minutes into the film with her husband Michael O’Keefe the other candidate for the worlds smallest cameo award. Both Wilson and O’Keefe are seen later in the film when their daughter Ruby visualises their death, over and over.

Ruby is played by the very capable Leelee Sobieski a young actress that make me think of a young Helen Hunt. With two awards under her belt and quite a few more nominations this young lady is not lightweight. She had no trouble convincing me that her character was grieving, confused, and finally suspicious about this couple that she and her brother were wards of. When she takes action, it does not jar or stretch belief.

Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit...
Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Glass couple that take over as the children’s guardians are played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård. My only complaint about the film has to do with the fact that I felt that Ms Lane was not used enough. That is most likely my problem only as I have been a huge fan of this talented lady’s work for years. Stellan Skarsgård does a great job as the devious and slight scary Mr Glass. Glass, it seems, can only afford the grand lifestyle he and his wife have by less than legal means.

English: Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

The nicest thing about the film was seeing Bruce Dern as  Ruby’s family lawyer. Dern has been acting since grass was green it seems and the old boy has still got the chops. Although it was a change to see him playing a ‘normal’ good guy part instead of the usual eccentric parts he is famous for.

Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, Cali...
Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All in all a film worth watching. Released in 2001 it is recent enough that it doesn’t suffer from being too outdated. Add the fact that the film is easily available via Netflix and other streaming film sites, it won’t cost you the earth to give it a look.

Mum and Dad: Keeping Horror in the Family

Shot with an estimated budget of just £100,000 ($157,000) this film sets the goal posts for “shoe string budget” films.  First time director Steven Sheil also wrote the film, putting him in the illustrious company of peers like Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England) and James Watkins (Eden Lake). This small elite group of British film makers have made brilliant and successful   films that they wrote and directed for  ridiculously tiny amounts of money.
The horror film Mum and Dad shows us first hand what happens when we talk to strangers or trust them. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t know the people you work with.
The films starts out in Heathrow Airport where cleaner Lena (played by Holby City Alumnus Olga Fedori)  gets to know her fellow workers, brother and sister team, Birdie and Elbie (Ainsley Howard and Toby Alexander). Birdie takes a shine to Lena and tells her about her wonderful parents. Lena explains that she doesn’t get along with her parents and wants to move away from home. At the end of their shift, Lena misses her bus home, and Birdie invites Lena to stay at her house which is near the end of a runway. Lena agrees and follows Birdie and Elbie to a gap in the runway security fence. Clamouring through the gap, they all proceed to the house.
After arriving in Birdie and Elbie’s home, the brother and sister disappear leaving Lena alone. She just starts to explore the house when she meets Dad (played brilliantly by actor Perry Benson) who knocks her out and injects her with something. Lena regains conciousness only to find that she is in a dark room. All she can hear are the tortured screams of someone in the house. Dad then enters the room with Mum (played with sinister madness by Dido Miles). Mum tells  Lena that she will belong to her and she injects Lena again.
The  film deals with a host of indignities inflicted upon Lena. Watching the film, I kept wondering who was going to rape Lena first, Mum or Dad. The entire household appear to be insane sexual deviants who rely on stolen items from the airport to help them get by. It also turns out that Birdie and Elbie are “adopted” just as Lena will be. The only real child that Mum and Dad have is a daughter who is chained to her bed in an attic room.  The daughter suffered severe brain damage after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Dad explains, quite gleefully, that as she was a home delivery he had to cut the cord with his teeth.
Lena soon realises that if she does not escape, she will become the mad couples new “daughter.”   Mum and Dad  explain that other “children” who could not  behave were disposed of.  Since their definition of behaving includes being tortured and sexually molested, Lena  starts playing Mum, Dad, Birdie and Elbie against one another with the hope of getting away.
Steven Sheil  based his film on real life rapists and serial killers Fred and Rosemary West whose victims included their own flesh and blood daughter. The film could have been very grim viewing but the director has taken a lot of the sting out of the tale by injecting large doses of black humour. I found myself cringing one moment and laughing the next. The film  deals  with taboo issues such as cannibalism, sexual fetishes, and incest on top of the main topics of kidnapping, murder and theft.
The title of this review could very easily have been Mum and Dad: Horror on a Budget. The director and the cast and crew have proven you don’t need big Hollywood type funds to make an entertaining film.  Writer/director Steven Sheil has produced a film that has been hailed as one of the most disturbing Brit-Horror films to emerge  in recent years. Do not watch this film if you are at all squeamish, but if you can stand a lot of gore, this is a must-see.
Personally, I cannot wait to see what Steven Sheil has in store for us in his next feature.