Wolves (2014): The Eater of the Pack (Review)

Lucas Till as Cayden Richards

Written and directed by David Hayter (best known for voicing Solid Snake for years in the Metal Gear Solid video game franchise) Wolves was released  in 2014 and promptly panned by most critics who saw the film.  While the idea of “hillbilly” cannibal werewolves was unique some felt the film took itself too seriously.  The idea that the leader of the pack was also the “eater” of the pack may not have helped either.

Starring Lucas Till and the iconic Stephen McHattie (this prolific performer has 195 credits under his belt) and the equally prolific John Pyper-Ferguson Wolves follows adoptive son Cayden (Till) who suddenly starts going all werewolf when things get interesting. Get angry? Wolf out. Sex? Wolf out and so on.

He wakes up to find his parents murdered and strewn about the house. He goes on the run and learns where he might  find more “people” him from Wild Joe (Pyper-Ferguson). He heads to the small backwoods town of Lupine Ridge where he meets Angelina (Merritt Patterson)and  her beer loving sister Gail (Melanie Scrofano from Wynonna Earp).

Cayden also meets farmer John Tollerman (McHattie) and the alpha male of the tiny burg, Connor (Jason Momoa). Tollerman hires Cayden to work on his farm and trouble soon hunts the young man down. 

The main problem with Wolves is that it feels wrong on many levels.  Although it does entertain, which means that Hayter did his job properly, it works too hard to push past a young adult setting to play to the grownups.

There is sex and brief nudity which no doubt earned the film its R rating. There is also too little time spent on drawing Cayden as the classic “white-hat” good guy. It is hinted at with the old black and white Lone Ranger show on the telly, but the message is lost.

Wolves has a fairly cool premise.  A small burg in the middle of nowhere populated mostly by lycanthropes is an interesting concept. So too is the “pure blood” line and the “mongrels.” (Created by infecting the humans rather than being born with the “ailment” as the pedigree werewolves are.)

Till does  a good job as Cayden  and  McHattie does what he does best and adds a little gravitas to the proceedings. The story, where Connor is about to rape the last purebred female in the town, is a tad distasteful and it does deviate wildly from classic werewolf  lore. (No silver bullets needed here…)

One annoyance has to do with the werewolf “makeup”  (or more accurately the CG werewolf effect) used for the film.  The filmmakers have opted for the old fashioned “Larry Talbot” look for the transformation of the protagonists.  The film also does not spend any time on the actual change itself.

The running time  of  91 minutes feels much faster and Hayter keeps things moving at a brisk pace.  This speed of delivery may be to the film’s detriment though as it does not feel that much time is given to Till’s character in terms of development.

With a reported budget of $18 million the film looks, rather curiously, like a low budget effort.  While the  special FX are fairly well done, they are not spectacular. The stunts were impressive, although not  a lot of wire work was done.  It does beg the question of where that $18 million went.

Wolves is a solid 3 star film. It entertains, but is nothing to write home about. While all the actors acquitted themselves quite well, the story did not live up to their performances. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and is worth a look or two  for Stephen McHattie alone.

Pay the Ghost: Nicolas Cage Returns to Humdrum Horror

Nicolas Cage’s return to horror in this 2015 offering is not as laughably bad as the The Wicker Man remake or as pointless as Ghost Rider, but Pay the Ghost is more humdrum hokum than real horror.

Pay the Ghost: Nicolas Cage Returns to Humdrum Horror

Nicolas Cage’s return to horror in this 2015 offering is not as laughably bad as the The Wicker Man remake or as pointless as Ghost Rider, but  Pay the Ghost is more humdrum hokum than real horror. Based on the novel by Tim Lebbon,  a screenplay by Dan Kay and directed by Uli Edel the film is about a child stolen from his father at a  Halloween carnival.

Cage plays Mike Lawford, a university professor who has just made tenure. His wife Kristen is Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Colony) and Charlie,  their son,  is played by Jack Fulton (a busy young actor with 25 credits under his belt). 

Predictably, the loss of Charlie pushes the parents apart and it appears that Mike, after lackadaisically teaching his literature course, puts up fliers and pushes the police to find his son.  With only days to go before Halloween, the one year anniversary of Charlie’s “kidnapping,”  Lawford sees Charlie on a bus.

The man chases the bus and  after boarding  it heads to the seat where he saw Charlie.  Mike finds it empty. As he leaves the bus, a vulture captures Mike’s attention and following the scavenger he finds the words “Pay the Ghost” spray-painted on a derelict building.

“Pay the Ghost” was the last thing that Charlie said to Lawford prior to his disappearing.   Mike follows clues and learns of an old curse, of course, where a woman who was burned at the stake, along  with her children cursed the area.

Not having read the source material for this film it is difficult to say whether it suffers from the same miss-mash of plots and other film storylines and devices that the film does.  Pay the Ghost feels like a recipe to some over-made cocktail: One part The Turn of the Screw, one part Poltergeist, or Insidious,  a dash of Ringu and just a whiff of The Shining.

There is nothing blazingly original here.  One spends more time wondering if Cage was ill while making the film since he appears to be suffering from Tom Cruise’s recent ailment of overly puffy features.  (Cage also seems to be wearing a hairpiece or is sporting the world’s worst haircut)

This is not to say the film is boring, but is does lack any real scary or horrific moments. Granted the film’s genre is listed as Drama, Mystery and Thriller but this may be a way to save face as the plots elements scream out horror.  Unfortunately the film itself falls short of delivering any real disturbing or scary moments.

In fact, the scariest, most horrible, part of the entire film is when Mike Lawford closes his hand around air and discovers his son is gone.  A close second comes when the beat cop at the carnival/fair seems more concerned about keeping the professor calm than helping the man find his son.

Pay the Ghost is a pale imitation of other the other films in the cocktail shaker, as the movie nears the  third act a medium/psychic is brought in and she moves the plot forward to get Mike Lawford ready to play saviour.

The film itself has characters that are never really allowed to become more than cardboard cutouts.  It feels as though the film’s director  had problems deciding what the movie’s focus  should really be.  Considering the movies distribution   was a combination of VoD and limited theatrical release  it appears that even the studio felt let down at the final product.

Pay the Ghost is currently streaming on Netflix and this feels like the  appropriate place for a film that is neither fish nor fowl.  It could have been an outright horror film, albeit not a blazingly original one, as it had the propensity to be scary rather than just mildly interesting.

This is a 3 star film, nothing too exciting yet not so abysmal that one should avoid it completely.  Best seen with a bowl of popcorn,  a glass of fizzy and low expectations.

Netflix Review: Haunter 2013 Under Released Hidden Gem (Trailer)

Netflix Review: Haunter 2013 Under Released Hidden Gem (Trailer)

Netflix continues to deliver hidden gems which, for one reason or another, were “under released” when distributed initially; one such movie is the 2013 film Haunter, after watching this brilliant out-of-the-box movie I had to write a review…immediately. The film stars Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland), Stephen McHattie (Pontypool, 300) and a stellar supporting cast that includes some of Canada’s finest actors and actresses. You can watch the trailer below.

 

Pontypool (2008): Python-esque Horror

Cover of "Pontypool"
Cover of Pontypool

Written and adapted for the screen by Tony Burgess and directed by Bruce McDonald  the 2008 film Pontypool feels like a demented Monty Python sketch on acid. It is clever, witty, and funny. It is also a brilliant exercise in suspense and horror.

The film promises so much in the beginning and continues to make these promises right up to the last quarter of the film. Then (a little like the 2010 film Insidious) it discards its brilliant beginning and shows us the ‘monster.’

Considering that the film was made in Canada by Canadians it’s no real surprise that the ‘big bad’ of the film turns out to be the English language. Without sounding too racist (I hope) it makes a sort of ironic sense coming from a country that has two national languages. One of which is French.

French is still touted as the ‘sophisticated’ language (mainly by the French) and the French are still slightly pissed that it is no longer considered the ‘international’ language that it once was. English has taken over as the ‘international’ language, which is slightly surprising considering it is seen to be harder to learn that the Chinese Mandarin language.

Still language plot points aside, the film is a good one. We join DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on his drive to work. Work is a small suburban radio station that he’s just started at. Grant was a ‘Shock-Jock’ at his last job and it got him fired. Working for Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) the radio’s producer and manager is a major ‘drop’ in his status. The only other person in the radio station is Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) who is the station’s technician, switchboard operator and all around chief cook and bottle washer. She also is a big fan of Grant’s.

That station producer Sydney doesn’t like Grant is obvious from the moment she walks into the station. Grant has little love to give in return as he drinks his scotch and coffee while presenting his show. While talking to their ‘eye in the sky’ traffic reporter, who in reality is not in the sky at all but is parked on a hill in his car, they are told that a ‘mob’ of people have surrounded a Dr’s office in the town.

This same mob, apparently blows up and the survivors start moving towards the radio station. A transmission in French breaks into the radio stations live broadcast. Laurel-Ann translates it and the message is that they should stop talking in English and to not use ‘terms of Endearment’ such as honey or sweetheart.

At this point in the film, we can only hear what Grant, Sydney and Laurel-Ann hear from the various ‘eye in the sky’ reports and phone calls into the station. We can hear through the calls, the sounds of everything that is going on around the caller. It makes for a suspenseful ride.

Steven McHattie really sells Grant Mazzy. His reactions, rants and realisations are brilliant. It is his presence that makes the film feel all too real.

If the film had continued in the vein that it had started, it could have quickly become a classic horror film. Unfortunately the creators decided to ‘show’ the infected crowds and bring the violence and gore into the radio station. It doesn’t harm the film when they do this, but it does rob it of it’s brilliant suspense and mounting horror.

Overall, I loved the film. And I might be the only one who noticed this, but towards the very end of the film when Grant and Sydney are playing their word association game in an attempt to “save the world” isn’t that a direct reference to the 1974 film Rhinoceros? A film that could be Pontypool’s spiritual twin?