The Pact (2012) It’s Not What It Looks Like

220px-The-pact-poster

Don’t let the trailers fool you. I was expecting something completely different after being bombarded with misleading trailers; first in the cinema and then on the internet. Despite my false expectations, the film surprised the hell out of me and I really enjoyed it.

Written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy The Pact is actually a “lengthening ” of his short film of the same name. The short starred Jewel Staite and I don’t mind going on record saying I think it’s a shame she wasn’t used in this version of the film.

Nicole (Anna Bruckner) is alone in her mother’s house. Mom is dead and the funeral is the next day. Nicole calls her sister Annie (Caity Lotz) and demands that she come over. Before Annie can get there, something happens to Nicole and she vanishes after going into a dark room in the hallway.

When Annie arrives, Nicole cannot be found. But according to Annie this is not unusual for her sister. After the funeral (Nicole is not there) Annie’s cousin Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Nicole’s daughter Eva (Dakota Bright) come to the house. Annie has a nightmare and when she wakes up, Liz is missing and some real scary shit is going down in the house.

It is unusual in films for an area of “occult” activity to take place in a “cracker-box” two bedroom tract house. But this movie uses this suburban setting masterfully. I will admit to jumping almost out of my skin at least three and a half times watching the events that unfolded in this little house.

I expected a completely different film. The trailers were misleading and I thought it would be like a Paranormal Activity rip-off and it did put me off a bit. I finally decided to give it a go after watching the trailer yet again and reacting to the Skype call where Nicole is talking to her daughter and she asks, “Who’s that behind you mommy?”

The was not so much a horror film as it was a supernatural thriller/mystery. The main protagonist was, once she pulled in that outthrust lower lip, someone you could warm to. She also convinced the hell out of me when she got frightened. So although I was disappointed that the lovely and talented Jewel Staite was not in this film, I did discover the considerable acting talents of Caity Lotz.

The only real problem I had was with the blind “medium/clairvoyant” character Stevie (played by Haley Hudson). The filmmakers seemed to go out of their way to make this character as strange-looking as possible. She might as well have had a sign around her neck stating, “Look! I’m weird-looking/acting and not normal! Of course I can talk to the dead!”

It was not big, nor was it clever. It was, if anything, just annoying and it detracted from the film. But despite this drawback, I still jumped like a Mexican jumping bean on speed several times and I swear that my heart stopped at least once. Pretty good for a film that is not really a horror film in the “classic” sense of the term.

So at the end of all this discourse, I have to say it’s a definite 4 out of 5 star film for me. It scared me in all the right places and it introduced me to Caity Lotz whom I don’t recall ever seeing on film before.

Put a lid on your popcorn bowl while watching this film or it will wind up all over the floor and the furniture.

Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?
Ouija believe this is actually pretty scary?

 

 

Possession (2012): Better the Dybbuk You Know…

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Directed by Danish director Ole Bornedal (who directed and wrote both the original Danish film Nightwatch and the Ewan McGregor remake) Possession is based on “true events” and deals with a box used to store Jewish spirits; a Dybbuk box. Co-written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (Boogeyman) based on an article by Leslie Gornstein entitled Jinx in a Box.

Starring:

Jeffrey Dean Morgan Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Clyde
Kyra Sedgwick Kyra Sedgwick
Stephanie
Natasha Calis Natasha Calis
Madison Davenport Madison Davenport
Hannah
Matisyahu Matisyahu
Tzadok
Grant Show Grant Show
Brett

*Courtesy of IMDb*

Possession is the story of a family going through the stresses of divorce and re-settlement. Clyde (Morgan) is a high school basket ball coach who has shared custody of his and ex-wife Stephanie’s (Sedgwick) two daugters Em (Calis) and Hanna (Davenport). He buys a house on the outskirts of town in a new development.

This part of the film felt a little like the classic film Poltergeist in its tract house setting and it also felt very isolated when you realise that Clyde and his daughters are one of the few people actually occupying a house in the development.

Younger daughter Em loves the rural setting and Hanna is horrified. After staying the weekend, Clyde is driving them back to Stephanie and her new partner dentist Brett (Show) when the girls spy a yard sale. Hanna tells her father to stop as he needs dishes. While he talks on his cell (mobile) phone about a new job coaching in a university, Hanna gets dishes and Em finds a curiously carved box with straps around it. She asks Clyde to buy it and he does.

In the house that is hosting the yard sale, a woman that we’ve met earlier in the film is wrapped in bandages after her attempt to destroy the box that Em is holding in her hands. She sees Em with the box and starts soundlessly screaming and beating the window. A nurse closes the curtains, but not before Em is badly frightened by the display.

Em is fascinated by the box and it whispers to her. She accidentally discovers how to open it and she finds some strange things inside it. In metal “jars” she finds a carved animal, a death moth, a ring and a few other odd curios. She slips the ring on her finger and begins to act strangely.

The film descends into a mix of suspense and some pretty scary scenes based around the personality change of Em. When things start to crank up and Clyde tries to get rid of the strange box, Em goes crazy and after acting like Clyde has struck her she runs out of the house to the dumpster where he threw the box away. Once there the box opens and things go from bad to worse in a moment.

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Clyde takes the box to a professor of the Occult and finds out that it is a Dybbuk box and it has a pretty scary past. He then goes to the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn to get help. After one of the Jewish Elders tells Clyde that whatever happens is in the hands of God, a younger man Tzadok (Matisyahu) offers to help.

This film obviously owes a lot to William Peter Blatty‘s The Exorcist. But to give  Bornedal credit he pulls out all the stops to keep the film from becoming a farcical parody of the  original and eschews the use of spinning heads and spewing vomit. He relies on sound and shadows to increase the tension and build up the suspense.

Morgan does a great job as Clyde the father who is trying very hard to hold his dwindling family together. I have not seen him in many films, the last one was The Watchmen. But by the end of the film, I decided that he should be in a lot more. Sedgewick as the highly strung mother who has decided that she wants to be with the anally retentive dentist is just as impressive.

The real star of the film was Calis as Em. She was brilliant as the Jewish version of Regan aka Linda Blair. She managed to look vulnerable and downright scary; sometimes in the same scene. The other young actress who played her sister, looked too much like a young Lindsey Lohan for me to warm to her too much, but young Davenport as Hanna held her own against the other actors in the cast.

A pretty decent scary film that did not rely on gore or fantastical special effects to sell the story. The use of sound and repetitive dialogue and distorting Em’s voice all worked well in the film. The director also relied on a great score to move things along and the use of shadow also worked very well in the film.

I’d give this film a much higher rating than either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes. At least a 4 stars out of 5 film that delivers it’s scares matter-of-factly and with a certain panache that left me admiring the story and it’s “open” ending.

The box that starts all the trouble.
The box that starts all the trouble.

Can You Spell Ouija Board?

Cover of "Long Time Dead"
Cover of Long Time Dead

We were watching the 2002 film Long Time Dead tonight which centres around a Ouija board and the evil Djinn (a fire demon according to the film) it releases. The resultant death and carnage all go a long way toward warning the audience of the perils of Ouija boards. Specifically if you operate one under the influence of booze or drugs (and if one of your party is the survivor of a previous Ouija board party gone bad).

When I was a whole world younger (and several worlds dumber) I had a fascination with these boards that allowed you to talk to the spirit realm. I never got too carried away though, I was too impatient to use a system that slowly spelt out any messages that your dead Uncle Fred or next door’s cat might want to relay.

Just in case you have led such a sheltered life that you don’t know what a Ouija board is I’ll just pass on the Wikipedia definition of this “game.”

The Ouija board (play /ˈwə/ wee-jə) also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, the words “yes”, “no”, “hello” (occasionally), and “goodbye”, along with various symbols and graphics. It is a registered trademark ofHasbro Inc.,[1] which markets and distributes the Ouija Board as part of its line of board games.[2] It uses a planchette (small heart-shaped piece of wood) or movable indicator to indicate the spirit’s message by spelling it out on the board during a séance. Participants place their fingers on the planchette and it is moved about the board to spell out words. It has become a trademark that is often used generically to refer to any talking board.

A modern ouija board plus planchette
A modern ouija board plus planchette (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh and in case you were interested? The thing was introduced into the retail world in 1890! 

Like many other young people I’d heard the odd urban legend (although  I can’t think of a single specific one, I do remember hearing about inadvertently calling up demons) about how these parlour games could be scary and even deadly.  I never really gave much credit to these scary stories.

I mean, how deadly could they be? They were made by Parker Games and Hasbro and were marketed as games! I remember sitting down with my mother’s best friend’s daughter and asking the board the stupid kind of questions kids at 12 and 9 years old ask. Will I get married? Does K like me? What does death feel like?

Generally, if someone wasn’t cheating and pushing the planchette, you got nonsensical answers like, “Blue,” to every question. But as I said, I never really had the patience to “play” with the board too often.

It wasn’t until years later when I was the reverse age of my initial Ouija experience (I was 21, just in case I was being too esoteric there) and my first wife and I lived in Southern California.

Our best friends lived in the flat above us in a house that had been sub-divided into two apartments. K and N were the closest friends we ever had and both K and I cried like two little school girls on the day my wife and I boarded the bus for home.

About a month before we left, my wife and I were visiting K and N and we started talking about the old Ouija board. A book had come out about a séance in Long Island or Rhode Island (I cannot remember which) and all the participants had been victimized by a “demon.” It was reportedly a true story and it impressed the hell out of me.

N said that the whole story was ridiculous and that if you followed the rules nothing bad would happen. Her husband K stated firmly that he did not like the boards and would not ever participate in the use of one. For some stupid reason, N and I decided to have a go on a board that they had.

K immediately went outside. He refused to be in the apartment while we were using it. N set the board up and grabbed some blank paper in case the words got too long for us to spell out quickly. My wife volunteered to write down what was being spelled out.

I remember that N and I sat there for what seemed like ages with our fingers just resting lightly on the planchette. Suddenly after asking repeatedly if anyone was there, it moved. It suddenly changed from being a cheap heart-shaped wooden heart to a live moving thing. It jerked and twitched and started gliding towards letters.

N and I both accused the other of moving it. After we both emphatically denied moving the thing, it glided to the “yes” on the board. My wife and N and I all looked at each other and grinned nervously.

N started by asking who was there. The mists of time have shrouded the name given, but it was a servant or serving girl who had lived at the house just after it had been built. I remember N and I asking a lot of questions about who the owners were and when the house was built. Things that we could check against records to validate if the “spirit” was real or just something messing us about.

The spirit girl had a fixation with me and for a long time would only “talk” to me. N got a bit frustrated when I had to ask her questions because the board would not respond unless I did the asking. We finally ran out of validating questions and asked how the girl had died.

She told us that she had died in childbirth. Something had been ruptured or broken and she had bled to death. N and I sat looking at each other and tried to think what to ask next. I suddenly had an idea and asked, “Who was the father of your baby?” The girl replied that it was the house owner’s child.

I immediately thought of every Gothic romance novel I’d ever heard of and decided that she must have been having an affair with the owner. I blurted out my next question without thinking. “Were you pretty?”

The planchette, which had been so alive during our session suddenly stopped. The slight electrical charge that N and I had both felt was gone. I started to ask the same question again. I was puzzled by this turn of events. As I opened my mouth I got the word were out  and N shook her head.

“I don’t think that was a good question. Try another one.”

I asked about her age (going back to familiar ground as we had asked before and gotten a reply). Nothing. I could not get any response from the board. Not even when I asked N’s questions for her. Frustrated and confused, I looked at N and said, “You try.”

N shrugged and asked, “What’s wrong.”

The planchette started moving. H…E…I…S…N…O…T…A…N…I…C…E…M…A…N. I was stunned! What had I done wrong? N asked what I had done and it continued to say that I was not a nice man and that the spirit had liked me but it did not now and would not talk to me.

The planchette stopped moving for about two minutes and then it changed. The electrical charge that N and I felt was gone, in its place was a weird cold/hot feeling in the ends of our fingertips. The planchette suddenly moved very fast. It began to spell out N’s husbands name.

It spelled out K’s name three times. It then spelled out the sentence, “Tell K that Ned is dead.” The message was repeated three more times. At the last letter of the message it stopped and nothing we could do would entice it to move again.

We all sat in silence. N jumped up and shouted out the window to K. “We’re done. You can come back in now.”  When K came in he looked at the board and asked why we hadn’t put it away. He glanced down at the paper by the board where my wife had written down the board’s repetitious message for him.

His eyes widened and his face turned white. “Shit! I know three Ned’s. Are you sure that was the message?” We all nodded silently. He spun around and ran to their wall phone in the kitchen.

It took him some time, but he finally rang all the Ned’s that he knew. All were alive and well and he came back into the room calmer than when he had left. Glancing down at the board he said to N, “I’m burning the damn thing.”

And he did. He took it into our communal back yard and placed it on the barbecue grill, doused it with lighter fluid and burned it.

My wife and K and I talked about the change in the board after I’d asked the spirit if it had been pretty. We all agreed that the atmosphere in the room had changed. It felt malevolent when it gave us the message about Ned’s death. We were all a little “freaked out” by the nasty turn that the Ouija board session had taken.

Suffice to say that I’ve never participated in the use of one again. I don’t know how they work or even if they work.

I do know that I don’t want to feel that malevolent, nasty feeling again.

Ever.

Nightmare by Stephen Leather – A Nightingale Sings

I have to start by saying that I came late to this party. The book Nightmare is the third in what is apparently going to be a long and enjoyable series. Nightmare begins after book two Midnight has ended.

(God, I am so clever…not)

Nightmare opens with Jack Nightingale, ex-cop, private eye and inheritor of his biological satanic worshipping father’s house and it’s occult book collection being woken up and arrested at an obscenely early time in the morning. *How’s that for summing up the main character in a single sentence.*

Nightingale is accused of shooting a black gang member in the back of the head in Brixton. Their evidence is the clinically brain dead victim saying Nightingale’s name while he is in a coma. And so begins Jack Nightingale’s third adventure in a world inhabited by bad people, demons and ‘experts’ in the occult.

The beauty of this book was that I could pick it up and read it without having read the other two books in the series. The action moves quickly and snappily. I immediately got connected with all the main characters and found myself cheering Jack on.

Stephen Leather is one of those unique authors that has that all important ear for dialogue. I would go so far as to put him in the same category as Elmore Leonard, who is a master  at dialogue. Leather’s characters talk like real people. And more importantly, since most of them live and work in London, sound like they belong there.

English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair Inter...
English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair International, 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also has gotten the ‘gangster speak’ down pat. At one point in the book Jack has to deal with a drugs gang and the lingo is spot on.

The book is busy. Not only does Jack have the police trying to pin a murder on him he also has a drugs gang who want him dead. He has two demons who want his soul and want him to make him pay up for a deal made in book two Midnight.

I felt that Jack Nightingale could be a real as you or me. He drinks, he smokes and he loves Chinese food. He is also smart and resourceful. But above and beyond all that, he carries on with his life and job despite having more crap dumped on top of him than most people could endure.

Unfortunately the ending, which was nail biting up to a point, yanked me right out of the moment. It was a device I had seen used in the films Bedazzled and Constantine .  Okay, it worked for the story, but, if I’ve seen it before it takes a little bit out of the punch.

Still it was not enough to put me off the story, it just took a little out of the ending. It definitely did not put me off enough to not want to read the first two books in the series and want another new one to read. Preferably sooner rather than later.

So If I used a star system (I don’t), this book would have still gotten a good four and a half stars out of five. But since I don’t use a star system, I’ll just say it’s a flipping good read and one that I would recommend to anyone.