Exeter (2015): Horror for the YouTube Generation

Party levitation

The 2015 horror film Exeter, directed by Conan the Barbarian and Friday the 13th remake helmsman Marcus Nispel, ( who also provided the story which was turned into a script by Kirsten McCallion nee Elms) feels like it was produced exclusively for the YouTube generation. Not that this is a bad thing.

Far from it.

There are moments that feel like some viral video wanna be which work very well. It has been noted that this is the first film Nispel has helmed that is not a remake, this may explain some of the rougher elements of the movie as well as some of the holes.

The film boasts Avatar baddie Stephen Lang who may just have more screen credits than Carter has little pills, and a group of younger actors with impressive CV’s (resume’s) and a young actor, Michael Ormsby who looks like a tweenie version of Jason Mewes. (Considering the character played by Ormsby manages to overdo his consumption of pharmaceuticals it seems strangely apt, no reflection on Mewes but rather on the type of characters’ he plays.)

Lang does have what amounts to an overly large cameo but his presence is appreciated, feeling a little like the adult chaperone who has been hired to look after the younger performers. Still, his “father figure” is not quite what he seems and later becomes a part of another “homage” a la I Know What You Did Last Summer sans hook.

There are some parts of the film that are slyly funny.

The young adults (Older teens?) looking up exorcism on the Internet and finding a YouTube video which is a DIY step-by-step instruction manual for novice exorcists. (The best bit about the whole “you can find anything on the web schtick” is the warning to ask your “priest” if you have difficulties.)

After an introductory sequence where a young partially clad woman kills herself, the film segways into  faux news footage in a documentary that tells of abuse that mentally challenged children suffered at the Exeter institution.  The property is under the purview of Father Conway and the building is falling apart and being scavenged for materials.

A group of young people have a party at the dilapidated structure and a smaller group decide to experiment on levitation, something they see on YouTube, and  while the rest of the  participants get their freak on, a young boy becomes possessed by something evil. His big brother sets out to save his younger sibling but things quickly get out of hand.

The film has a lot of moment where things make no real sense or the timeline is a bit shaky but there are many other things in the film that feel impressively spot on. In one instance it is a piece of dialogue.

Patrick and his new female friend Reign (Kelly Blatz and Brittany Curran respectively) share a moment where one of Patrick’s friends, Brad (played by Brett Dier) storms off on is own. Patrick starts to follow him and Reign says, quite realistically, “Just let him go.” 

The scene has the same solid ring of truth that exists in Tremors when Reba McEntires tells her character’s husband, “I know they think they know every thing.” [sic] In each instance it is less about the script and more about the delivery. the lines feel and sound as matter of fact as ordering extra mayo for your burger.

Another scene in Exeter that feels spot on is the cupboard (wardrobe) scene. Patrick and Reign are looking for Rory and hear the newly possessed Amber (Gage Golightly) coming down the hall after them. They open a cupboard door and all manner of junk falls out, including an ironing board. 

When the two hear Amber getting closer, they stop and push all the rubbish that tumbled out of the cupboard back in before entering the thing and closing the door after them. A moment that feels truthful and works. Even the dumbest possessed creature would notice a mound of junk that obviously just fell out a cabinet/cupboard.

Some of the scenes are blackly comic, such as the demise of one character in a manner that seems to proves that when your mother told you about running with sharp objects in your hands, she was right. Another, perhaps inadvertently, amusing moment is when the possessed Amber is knocked down into a load of fire extinguisher foam and in her “death throes” begins to make a foam angel…

Nispel pays homage to a few films and at least, apparently, one iconic film maker. There is a clear nod to Takashi Miike and Ichi the Killer and another to the 1999 film House on Haunted Hill.  Despite these nods and winks to other films at 91 minutes, despite the “cleverness of the homages” the movie feels longer. It does not drag, per se, it just feels overly long.

Perhaps it is the culmination of annoying things. Such as the repeated camera lingers on the lawn mower, or the oddly amusing “shake and bake” death of the baddie at the end.

Still, this first move away from doing remakes of other films, the director, overall, does a satisfactory job. The movie entertains and mangoes to balance humor and horror quite nicely. The focus on the internet generation works very well and the film is a decent attempt at horror.

Exeter is a 4 out of 5 stars, earning an extra half star for the nods/homages in the film and those few stunning moments of truth. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment it  is definitely worth a look.

A Blood Pledge (2008) Whispering Corridors 5 Review

The last in a series about South Korean all-girl schools, A Blood Pledge also known as Whispering Corridors 5, is the only one set obviously in a Catholic School. It is interesting to note that each film in the series, which are all considered part of the franchise, has a different director and writer.

All have similar themes, an emphasis on friendship and betrayal of same, fierce competition for grades/scores in class, which in turn leads to even more competition to get into a good university.

Girl crushes, teen pregnancy, Korean teenage girls portrayed as bitchy, bullying and overly obsessed with money and class, dysfunctional family units, and betrayal all are part of the franchise formula along with curses, urban myths and of course supernatural occurrences.

The first three films in the series are really the best. In my honest opinion, as the “sequels” continued they borrowed freely from whatever new trends in Asian horror were prevalent at the time of filming or when writing screenplays.

A Blood Pledge is directed by Jong Yong-Lee, who was actually a co-writer on the superior 2002 film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Yong-Lee also wrote the screenplay for A Blood Pledge and the film marks his second time in the director’s chair, his second credit for writing and first feature length film.

Now, despite what IMDb maintains the storyline is; it is not about FOUR friends who make a suicide pact. There are only three who decide to swear an oath that they will die before their time. The mistake seems to have been brought about because a fourth joins the group later, after the blood oath, or pledge, and she is the only one who perishes.

Leader of an elite trio of friends, Eugene, or Eun-Jo, is a manipulative little schemer who does not like losing at anything. As she has been knocked off her spot as student with the highest grade average, mainly because of her “out of school” romance with the rich love rat Ki-ho, she comes up with a plan to knock current leader Yoo-Jin out of the top spot. Her grades have slipped so much that she is no longer in the list of top ten best students.

Eugene kicks an old established member out of her group and woos Yoo-Jin’s best mate Soy into her little trio, with the idea that the former straight A student will become so upset that her grades will drop. The plan backfires when Ki-ho goes after the new girl and in the process, dumps Eugene and impregnates Soy.

Oops!

She then plans to kill Soy, win back Ki-ho and resume her place as top straight A student. Unfortunately everything goes wrong when Yoo-Jin goes over the side of a school building instead of Soy and dies. The dead girl soon begins appearing and her younger sister keeps approaching Soy for answers.

The school, broken into various cliques and class loyalties, is a hotbed of rumors, theories, backbiting and mudslinging between the different factions.

A Blood Pledge is entertaining. Sadly, though, it is not a fitting end to the brilliant trilogy that started the whole thing off. While it does not borrow quite so heavily from the franchise as Voice did for example, the film feels like a poor relative to the series and seems as though it was meant to be a “made for TV” version of the franchise.

It is confusing and hard to follow at times, mainly because of flashbacks and the fact that Eugene, Eun-Jo and Soy resemble each other so much. It would have helped if the director had at least changed their hairstyles a bit. At times other events transpire that never have a real explanation of why or what exactly had been done. The locker scene in particular, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Another example is the “evil mother of the rich love rat” car scene. Good stuff, but it did not really fit the motif here…

I would recommend watching A Blood Pledge, and Voice actually, just so you can finish the franchise off. Then sit down and watch the first three and enjoy the best the series has to offer.

That’s it from me this week so until next time, keep watching the movies and have fun!

Here is the video from my YouTube channel where I talk about the film. Enjoy:

22 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Cold Fish (2010) Sono Tips the Horror Scales

DVD cover of Cold Fish

The 2010 film Cold Fish, co-written and directed by Sion Sono, aka Shion Sono, is based upon “true events.” In 2001 two dog breeders were sentenced for poisoning several customers and disposing of the bodies. Known as the “Saitama serial murders of dog lovers” as the crime took place in the Saitama Prefecture, the film version of the real criminals and their horrific deeds differ in that the “pets” on offer in Cold Fish are, by evidence of the title, fish.

Tropical fish in fact. At the start of the film Nobuyuki Syamoto, his second wife and teenage daughter are living over his small tropical fish shop. The teen is caught red-handed shoplifting in a store and the manager calls her father, Nobuyuki. He and Mrs. Syamoto go to the scene of the crime and as the store’s representative threatens legal action, a middle aged business man intercedes and talks the manager into not pressing charges.

Nobuyuki and his entire family then have their lives taken over by Yukio Murata, his wife Aiko and Tsui-Tsui another accomplice of Murata’s. Syamoto’s daughter goes to work and live with Murata, who has his own tropical fish shop with a bevy of teenage “troubled” girls who are there already. After becoming involved with the Murata’s Nobuyuki soon finds out that Yukio is a murderous psychopath. The younger shop owner is pushed into helping Yukio and Aiko get rid of a victim’s body and he gets caught up in the couple’s deadly game of making people become “invisible.”

While some things were changed considerably in the retelling of the real crime’s details the disposal methods where the victims were made invisible are exactly the same as those in the Saitama case. Sono specializes in films which concentrate on the more bizarre sections of Japan. This has led to an inevitable comparison to Takashi Miike.

Certainly Sono does have the same tendency as Miike to use copious amounts of claret in his death scenes, but he lacks the complete eccentricity of using the parts of Japan that one does not normally see. For example, Miike’s apparently hermaphrodite “Schoolgirl” in Fudoh: The New Generation or the villainess in Audition as well as other films feature the “underbelly” of Japan and Sono may come close but he still has a way to go in the Miike department.

Most of Sono’s work seems to be taking a sly dig at Japanese societal mores while turning most of his horror films into black comedies. The director’s take on these true life murders is no different. He makes his characters all that bit more eccentric and because of this the more horrific scenes take on a dark comedic slant. He does insure that the tragic elements remain. In the scene where the murderous Yukio is dying in the back of Nobuyuki’s car, the ramblings of the man reveal the horrific facts of his childhood.

Sono specializes in this juxtaposition of elements in his films. EXTE: Hair Extensions has a antagonist who is undoubtedly the oddest villain ever seen in a horror film. Singing about hair, his fixation, while the stuff engulfs his entire apartment is one of the weirdest and funniest scenes in the movie.

Cold Fish does not offer the same sort of comedic moments in its retelling of murder and a small dysfunctional family unit. There are scenes which can be described as amusing but not overtly funny. The surreal nature of the film overrules any other feelings that the story and the action may attempt to induce.

The viewer really feels as though they are trapped with Nobuyuki as he vacillates between fear and revulsion although his decision to go along with the whole thing instead of running down to the nearest police station does defy belief. At one point the local cops stop him outside Yukio’s massive fish store and question the hapless accomplice.Amazingly, the reluctant participant says nothing.

Sion Sono has delivered yet another quirky film with Cold Fish. The movie won several awards, not least of which was Denden (Yukio Murata) getting the Best Actor award from the Japanese Academy for his portrayal of the serial killing fish shop owner. This is a fascinating film and well worth the trouble spent (for those who do not like subtitled films) reading the English translations of the original dialogue. A real 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment.

A word of warning: The subtitles on the trailer below are slightly different from the DVD I watched.

Avril Lavigne J-Pop Salute not Racist it is Kawaii

Avril Lavigne J-Pop Salute not Racist it is Kawaii

So according to all those that claim to know these things, Avril Lavigne’s J-pop salute is racist, I beg to differ, it is not, it is kawaii. Let me explain. Quite a lot of people have been explaining that the opening line, “Mina saiko arigato,” translates to “I’m rocking thanks.” They have, thus far left out the translation for kawaii. For those that are curious, it means cute.

 

The Corridor (2010): Canadian Chill at its Finest

Unknown

The Corridor is Evan Kelly‘s first feature film, although he has a good list of films that he has been assistant director on and he directed a short filmQuality Viewing in 2002. Despite the fact that it appears he’s not done anything recently I expect great things from this director.

Amazingly this film was so low-key that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. *Surely this more than anything else shows how the world has moved into the internet verse of informative websites.*   There is not a whole lot of information on IMDb either. The only information that one can glean from this site is that is was shot in 2010 and not released until 2012.

Due to the lack of budget and box office information, I am guessing that the film was released straight to DVD. After watching it I could only ask why? Was the film so outside the box that the production company or the producers could not figure out how to market the film? What ever the reason, it is ridiculous that this film is so unknown.

The guys still don't quite trust Tyler.
The guys still don’t quite trust Tyler.

The Cast:

Stephen Chambers
Tyler Crawley
James Gilbert
Everett Manette
David Patrick Flemming
Chris Comeau
Matthew Amyotte
Robert ‘Bobcat’ Comeau
Glen Matthews
Jim ‘Huggs’ Huggan
Mary-Colin Chisholm
Pauline Crawley

*Courtesy of IMDb.*

The Plot:

The film starts with a “freaked out” Tyler hiding in a hallway closet. He is looking at an apparently dead woman on the floor in front of him outside the closet. His roommates come into the hallway and when they find the body, Tyler comes out of hiding waving a knife and  slashes one friend on the face and stabs another through the hand. An unspecified time later, all of the men get together to scatter the woman’s ashes (her name was Pauline and she was Tyler’s mother) at a cabin deep in the woods.

The corridor...
The corridor…

The Device:

A corridor that “magically” appears in the forest when Tyler scatters Pauline’s ashes. As he is alone when this happens and he suffers from schizophrenia and is on “heavy” medication he doesn’t think it is real. He talks his friends into investigating this phenomenon and they  all get affected by this corridor.

The Twist:

The one who survives to the end of the movie isn’t who you think it will be.

The Verdict:

This film was complex and very intertwined. If you didn’t pay attention, you would miss something. However, it is clever and well constructed. There is not a lot of blood and gore so if you’re expecting a tribute to Takashi Miike you’ll be disappointed. But if you like films that are thoughtful, slow-burning, and different; this film is for you. I was genuinely surprised at the ending and after watching it I put in on my list of favourites

The Score:

This is a chilly 4 stars out of 5. It would have gotten a full 5 but there are bits in the film that are confusing. But the entire premise and the way that Evans presents it drives the score up. I really don’t know why they waited 2 years to release this film, but I’m glad that they finally did.

*I’m still playing around with the format here. Thanks.*

Tyler "freaking out."
Tyler “freaking out.”