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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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2010

Movie Review – Trollhunter (2010)

Movie Review – Trollhunter (2010)

Three Norwegian film students secretly follow a man into the woods, believing him to be a bear poacher who they expect to catch in the act and to expose. As they search the dark forest, flashes and roars emanate from behind a hill and the man they’ve stalked runs down screaming, “Trolls!” Disbelieving at first, they soon find that his frenzied warning is genuine and begin a trek through the north of Norway, following the government-contracted trollhunter (Otto Jespersen) as he puts down dangerous trolls and watching the government’s haphazard attempts to hide the truth from the public.

Trollhunter (2010), written and directed by André Øvredal, is a docu-style horror fantasy replete with dry Scandinavian humor and some beautifully rendered creature effects. Trolls, we learn, come in all varieties and sizes, and a lot of the fun derives from seeing their multitude of forms. They feed mostly on rocks and coal but sometimes kill animals and humans when they stray too far from their protected habitats. Ultraviolet light is fatal to them – the old ones turn to stone while the young ones explode. Also, they can smell the blood of Christians, making the majority-godless Norwegians safer as a result. Some of the lore is drawn from myth, and some the filmmakers make up, but there are peppered throughout allusions to troll stories like the Norwegian fairytale “Three Billy Goats Gruff” which involves a particularly humorous encounter.  If this sounds fun to the present reader, this movie is for you.

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The characters drive through gorgeous landscapes, the camera revealing Scandinavia’s natural beauty as waterfalls cascade like ribbons down vibrantly green hills. The script touches upon themes of environmentalism as we hear radio stories about climate change or the trollhunter looks back gloomily at his record of extermination in the name of human greed and profit. Some subjects are more national in nature, such as the continuous controversy of Norwegians not wanting huge wire towers going through their lands. However, the film is not heavy-handed in its messages and instead focuses on the adventurous aspects of the story.

Trollhunter is a fun ride that sparks the imagination and brings out the inner child of the viewer. Despite one’s previous inclinations, you’ll find your mind occupied by bulbous-nosed trolls for days after.

Grade: B+

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Movie Review – Monsters (2010)

Movie Review – Monsters (2010)

2010’s Monsters is a sci-fi horror filmed on a micro-budget of less than $500,000. Director Gareth Edwards shot the film guerilla-style on location in Central America and Texas with a small crew consisting of himself, the two main actors (Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able), a sound operator, a line producer, a Mexican fixer, and a driver for their van. Edwards did not write a script or storyboard for the film and instead allowed the actors to carry much of the dialogue and narrative, being sure to hit certain important marks in the story. The extras in the film were locals who happened to be around and who agreed to be filmed. Shot in three weeks with digital cameras, Edwards then edited and created the special effects himself on a laptop.

Despite its humble origins, Monsters feels much grander than it actually is. This is largely accomplished by concentrating the film on the romantic tension of its two protagonists who trek across landscapes both depressing and beautiful, and by only showing the monsters in rare but gracefully rendered and effective moments. Edwards has created creatures – really alien life seeded here by a returning probe – that appear to be a cross between the monsters from The Mist (2007) and something reminiscent of Cthulhu, and he manages to create awe each time they appear, including one scene towards the end that will remind any Trekker of “Encounter at Farpoint” (1987).

The creatures roam an area of northern Mexico called “the infected zone” which our two American characters have to cross to get home. This of course invites viewers to read into the film commentary on immigration, American exceptionalism, and even American interference as the locals tell our characters that American fighter planes agitate the creatures. Despite what may very well be valid readings, Edwards has maintained that any of these themes are unintentional.

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Monsters succeeds whenever the creatures are present, and the landscape is reason enough for viewers to keep their eyes on the screen. However, the central love story is generally weak. Though McNairy and Able were a real life couple at the time and would eventually marry, the film doesn’t sell their story beyond some sexual tension. McNairy’s character is more developed than Able’s, but only barely. The actors’ performances are fine, but the narrative does nothing to invest the audience into their budding relationship.

Monsters is a quiet creature feature, especially when compared to Edwards’s next outing, 2014’s Godzilla. In that film the monsters were awesome but the humans around them were flat and uninteresting, and Monsters at least manages to make the peripheral characters feel real and interesting. Monsters is a better film and well worth the time of people who appreciate the lengths filmmaking can reach when so few resources are at the filmmaker’s disposal.

Grade: B

Movie Review – Stake Land (2010)

Movie Review – Stake Land (2010)

Borrowing heavily from the zombie apocalypse movies that came before, 2010’s Stake Land substitutes mindless zombies for nearly as mindless feral vampires. Displaced former citizens of a defunct United States wander the dangerous landscape, avoiding bloodsuckers at night and a fanatical portion of mankind during daylight. Taking a note from George A. Romero, the vampires are dangerous but they’re more of a backdrop – it’s the human drama that moves the story. The script, written and directed by Jim Mickle and co-written by Nick Damici, who stars as Mister, attempts to focus more on the characters and their relationships.

The soundtrack for the film consists of classic Americana, from gospel to bluegrass. The music and much of the fashion evokes images from the Great Depression, particularly migrant workers, hungry and haggard, pulling together in shanty towns. Boarded-up businesses blight the streets and people often eat from salvaged canned goods. The story owes as much to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), with its “Okies” in search of work in California mirroring Stake Land’s inhabitants search for New Eden, as much as it does the plague-like vampire apocalypse of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954).

Stake Land summons the early twentieth century in other ways, notably in its depiction of race relations. Large areas have been taken over by a zealous cult known as The Brotherhood, which has adopted an Aryan form of vengeful Christianity. Crosses burn and the populace is terrorized. Additionally, a great deal of inspiration appears to have been taken from current Middle Eastern strife, where theocracies use religion as a weapon of oppression and terrorism. As Martin, our young narrator, laments after an attack: “And it was over like that. All of the goodness shattered by some Christian crazies…” Christianity runs amok – in a world of vampires, the cross is more terrifying to the living than to the undead. Religion has poisoned people’s minds and circumvented their empathy, making them as equally dangerous as the vamps.

Filmed with mostly realistic action, Stake Land succeeds in most of the things it sets out to do. The largest weakness of the film lies in its attempt to make The Brotherhood’s leader the main villain of the film, and in doing so it requires of its audience too much suspension of disbelief as the series of coincidences that need to arise to pull it off become ludicrous. Nevertheless, Stake Land succeeds in making vampires scary and wholly unsympathetic again, and for that I salute it.

Grade: C+

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