Grave Encounters (2011): Great Start…Grave Finish

Grave Encounters

Written and directed by  The Vicious BrothersGrave Encounters  is their maiden voyage as it were into the film world. Using the obligatory horror genre as their entrance, I am sure that the idea worked really well in script and storyboard form.

I really wanted to like this film. The beginning of the film looked great. Hell, the “trailer” for the ‘ghost hunter’ team played beautifully. I wanted to make that program.

The film opens as a mock-u-mentary, we hear from a television executive how Lance Preston sent in a demo reel for consideration as a new ‘reality’ program. The excec states that he was before his time and that this type of tv program hadn’t taken off yet.

Everything looked great until episode six. We are going to see episode six. He stresses that this is not a movie. It is seventy-six hours of un-edited footage from Lance’s last ever show.

We then meet the crew of Lance’s “professionals” and we see them setting up the shots for episode six. We meet cameraman TC (Merwin Mondesir), Techno Geek Matt (Juan Riedinger), pouty assistant Sasha (Ashleigh Gryzko), Psychic Houston (Mackenzie Gray) and presenter/expert Lance (Sean Rogerson).

They are all there to investigate the creepy abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital. This place, according to local legend, has had scary stuff happen ever since it closed down. And shades of The House on Haunted Hill; the reason it was closed was a mad doctor was murdered by six of his patients.

The first thing we learn upon meeting these guys and gal are that they are new to this whole ‘ghost busting’ gig and that, so far at least, they haven’t seen any ghostly goings on. We also find out that Houston is about as psychic as my left big-toe. He is in fact just an actor.

*He also, through no fault of his own, provides for some of the ‘unintended” laughs. Every time someone said his name and the word problem together, I felt like I was watching an astronaut film –

Right up until everything goes completely Pete Tong I was with them. I liked how the film was progressing and was ready for the action to pick up.

Unfortunately when it did pick up, the players all lost their cool too quickly. It was like watching a high school theatre group do improv. Everyone wanted to panic and scream.

Incidentally, I wanted Sasha to die immediately. Nothing personal, but her scream was so irritating that the threat the ghosts posed seemed minimal compared to the ear damage her shrieking must have caused.

But before everything goes completely crazy (Did you see what I did there?) The group have had very little happen to them and they decide to call it a night. They are bored, tired and hungry. All this was good. I mean they had me right there and ready to ride the roller coaster of fear.

Like the celestial virgin, there I was all juiced up and ready to go, but my partner was suffering from a terminal case of brewer’s droop.

It is quite possible that this film was much scarier in the cinema where sound and darkness could play a big part in setting you up for the jump. It just felt like a lukewarm version of The Blair Witch Project.

To say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. Somebody must have liked the film, because on IMDb there is a Grave Encounters 2 set for release this year.

It was inevitable that the success of the Paranormal series, which owes it own beginnings to Blair Witch, would spawn imitations. The guerilla style of film-making seems to be on the rise and to be fair it has resulted in some great little films. Cloverfield to name but one.

But for the love of all that’s scary, get off the Blair Witch train. Okay?

Thirst (2009): It’s In the Blood

There are a lot of people who watched this film simply because it’s by the iconic, cult favourite, South Korean director/auteur – Chan-wook Park. Chan-wook, who also co-wrote the screenplay with  Seo-Gyeong Jeon which is based on the book Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola, has not disappointed us with his version of a vampire tale.

This is completely unlike any of his ‘trilogy’ films. Of course each of the trilogy films were very different from each other. They all had a “similar” theme, but, visually they were very unalike. Park has, with Thirst, gone completely outside his comfort zone and brought us a masterpiece in the guise of Grand Guignol Theatre.

Starring Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim, Thirst is a love story, horror film, thriller, comedy and a tragedy. I never realised that it was possible to cram so many genres into a single film and more importantly still be able to pull it off. Chan-wook Park has not only managed to pull it off, but he has also, once again, made a film that really is genre-less.

Kang-ho Song plays Father Sang-hyun. He volunteers at a local hospital. He ministers the sick and dying patients, and he provides absolution when they die. He also takes confessions from the staff. But this job is taking a toll on his mental well being. He suffers secretly from depression and doubt about his profession.

He volunteers to become part of an ongoing medical experiment. A medical team is battling to find a cure for a virus known as the  Emmanuel Virus (EV). It affects only Caucasian and Asian men and it is almost always fatal. Sang-hyun allows himself to be injected with an experimental vaccine. When he starts to ‘bleed-out’ he receives a blood transfusion that turns him into a vampire.

He checks himself out of the experimental facility to find that he has been transformed in the public’s eyes as a ‘healer.’

He bumps into a childhood friend and gets an invite to join their Wednesday night mah-jong game. When he attends he gets re-acquainted with his friend’s adopted sister, who is now his wife. It turns out that all three spent a good part of their childhood together. The sister/wife, Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim) is drawn to Sang-hyun, just like she was drawn to him when they were children.

And so begins their ‘forbidden’ love affair. An affair that will escalate to murder and an almost complete surrender to their passion. It is the first mainstream  South Korean film to feature full-frontal adult male nudity, although not the first commercial film to do so. Made on a budget of five million dollars it can boast a gross revenue of well over thirteen million dollars.

I was completely engrossed in the film from the very first frame. I had no idea where the film was going and at no point could I second guess how it would end.

I suppose that is could be classed as an erotic thriller set in a fantasy. But as I said before I believe it cannot be put in any genre and that is what we have come to expect from Chan-wook Park.

English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Fil...
English: Park Chan-wook at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rise (2007) Drink Like an Egyptian

Rise: Blood Hunter

Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez and starring Lucy Liu and Michael Chiklis, Rise was Gutierrez’s third time at bat as a director. Despite the talented cast and taut storyline, Rise on it’s release got a pretty poor reception. It received a 33% from Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.0 on IMDb.

Lucy Lui plays Sadie Blake a reporter who specializes in doing undercover work and showing the ‘underbelly’ of society.

She gets a tip from a colleague who works as a computer ‘Hacker’ and he has traced a reference to a Goth Vampire Cult that is meeting in Korea Town.

Sadie decides to follow up the lead. When she reaches the address of the meeting place, it is deserted except for the blood that adorns the floors and walls.

She is knocked unconscious by Bishop’s servant Poe (Mako in his last live action role) and taken to the leader of the vampires Bishop (James D’Arcy) who questions Sadie and then with the help of Eve (Carla Gugino) rapes, tortures and murders her.

She wakes up in a drawer in the morgue. She realizes pretty quickly that she is now a member of the un-dead. She leaves the hospital and eventually finds her way to Arturo (Julio Oscar Mechoso) who is also a vampire.

Julio Oscar Mechoso in January 2009

Sadie explains that she wants to kill Bishop and Arturo agrees to help, it appears that he and Bishop are in some sort of power struggle.

While tracking Bishop down, Sadie gets arrested by cop Clyde Rawlins (Michael Chiklis). Rawlins lost his daughter to Bishop and his life has been all but destroyed by this event.

rise_blood_hunter
rise_blood_hunter (Photo credit: perry_marco)

Sadie finally convinces Clyde to help her take Bishop down. Clyde agrees and the two work together.

I enjoyed this film a lot. There were areas that were a bit vague  or not explained very well, but the sheer speed of the film and its action made up for this.

I liked Lucy Lui’s character as well as Michael Chiklis’s. I also like the ‘Egyptian’ looking small knife that the vampires used to cut their victims. It made me think of the Ankh symbol used by the Egyptian vampire Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) in The Hunger (1983).

I love good vampire films and to me this jumped into the ‘top twenty list’ of my favourites. It is worth a watch just to see Mako in his last action role.

Mako Iwamatsu