The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews



Movie Review – Hell (2011)

Movie Review – Hell (2011)

Something is wrong with the sun. Solar flares have intensified, heating the planet and licking the surface clean of its water. The population has dwindled to the unlucky few who scavenge for food and water. They wander the post-apocalyptic landscape remaining ever-cautious of any other person they come across. The bright lighting exposes the audience to the searing sun and appealing cinematography keeps the viewer staring at the screen. The cast, too, is strong in their roles. Aptly named, 2011’s Hell (which is German for “bright”) sets up a promising premise for a bleak, survivalist horror film.

Unfortunately, Tim Fehlbaum’s directorial debut gives up on its premise halfway through the film and becomes a cannibal-family horror film the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to France’s Frontier(s) (2007). Hell actually plays like a tamer, more reserved version of the latter film. The sun is, ironically, left on the back burner, and the film grows increasingly predictable as it goes on.  Also, we never really get to know our characters in a deeper sense.

Additionally, there are some odd artistic choices and some missed opportunities. Nena’s infectious anti-war protest song “99 Luftballons” recurs in the film, but it’s unclear to what end. Both the film and the song deal with a post-apocalyptic world, but Nena’s lyrics are about the specifically man-made disaster of nuclear annihilation and the folly of the Cold War, not an unexplainable natural occurrence. Perhaps the end of life as we know it is the only link, but if so, it’s a weak one that brings up more questions than answers.

As an aside, as I watched I couldn’t help but wish there had been a vampire motif to be found: we have people who burn in the sun and therefore can’t go out in the day, traveling instead at night, and who resort to cannibalism to survive. Had there been more emphasis on blood as opposed to flesh we could have seen a world embracing vampiric habits by necessity, and a more explicit nod to this might have made the script more interesting. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to watch that movie in my head.

Hell quickly loses originality, but it remains a well-executed, well-acted film that’s still enjoyable. Its lack of inventiveness makes it forgettable, but its competence nevertheless makes the experience of viewing it wholly worthwhile.

Grade: C

Movie Review – The Road (2011)

Movie Review – The Road (2011)

The Road (2011) is a Filipino psychological horror directed by Yam Laranas. It is a non-sequential ghost story which concerns a number of deaths along a remote road, taking the viewer from 2008 to 1998 and finally to 1988, essentially telling a Norman Bates-style tale in reverse. This makes for some interesting storytelling techniques, such as revealing the origins of ghosts as the film goes on, and it succeeds in displaying some nice cinematography and some genuinely creepy imagery.

Unfortunately, whatever dread is conjured is regularly dispelled by awkward editing, two-dimensional characters, and a chronology that can become confusing. This isn’t helped by failure of basic math, for in the opening scenes, which take place in 2008, we learn of a twelve-year-old cold case file of two girls who went missing in 1998. Read that last sentence again – those years are correct, there isn’t a typo. Suspense is lost as the film continues, and is lost entirely in a highly improbable twist ending that viewers will not only see coming, but will be left scratching their heads at just how they’re supposed to swallow what the filmmaker tried feeding them.

The Road is a film with great elements that never coalesce into a satisfying whole. Sure, the scenery is nice, but the potholes make for a rough ride.

Grade: C-

Movie Review – Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Movie Review – Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

In 2010 Dimension Films had a revelation. They realized that if they did not make another Hellraiser sequel fast they would lose the rights to the franchise. Like a procrastinating student cramming an hour before an exam, they quickly threw the ninth Hellraiser film together for a paltry $350,000, filming over just three weeks. Doug Bradley declined to reprise his role as the iconic Pinhead, not submitting to the meager sum which they offered him, and the role went instead to Stephan Smith Collins.

The deck was clearly stacked against this film, and the budget constraints and reckless speed with which it was made are painfully apparent. The sets look cheap, the camerawork is sloppy, the acting is generally poor, the script is weak and the dialogue is stilted, and the story is mostly an unimaginative rehash of the first Hellraiser, with a heavy dose of incomprehensible tropes thrown in (why do their friggin’ cars disappear?). They copy the imagery of Clive Barker’s directorial debut but they don’t fully understand it. Do I need to even mention the families being named Bradley and Craven? Plus, Collins is given the short shrift with fan loathing by not having his voice properly reverbed in post-production, making his delivery sound ridiculous. This is no fault of his own and while the circumstances would have been better served to create a new Cenobite – maybe even another Lament Configuration – had he been given the appropriate treatment his Pinhead would have been passable.

Honestly, this is truly a shame. Revelations is the first Hellraiser movie to be written as an original entry into the series since 1996’s Hellraiser: Bloodline. While it’s a thin rehash of the original film and doesn’t quite understand its source material, it actually comes closest to embracing the themes of the first film. After a victim gets his face ripped off, Pinhead speaks of “pain and pleasure, indivisible.” The characters are once again attracted to the Lament Configuration for its promise of extreme experiences, particularly pleasures.

Had this script gone through more rewrites and been given adequate care, there may have been a decent Hellraiser film in there. Alas, such a film we were not given. Hellraiser: Revelations is a low point, even after the terrible Hellraiser: Hellworld. The mythos which Barker created is still relevant to our era and deserves better.

Grade: F

Movie Review – Twixt (2011)

Movie Review – Twixt (2011)

In an early scene in 2011’s Twixt, the main character, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) – a second-tier horror writer whose career and finances are on the decline – explains that he no longer wants to write what is expected of him by others. He wants to write something personal, something that speaks to and matters most to him. In many ways this is director Francis Ford Coppola talking to the audience, explaining the rationale for the rather bizarre film to which they are bearing witness. Coppola is a rightfully celebrated filmmaker, praised for the artistic masterworks he created in the 1970s, and he is no stranger to horror. He first cut his teeth directing the 1963 Roger Corman produced Dementia 13, and then in 1992 returned to the genre in the visually dense, operatic Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which functions effectively as a love letter to the vampire character’s portrayal in cinema since 1922’s Nosferatu. Horror fans were therefore justifiably excited when it was announced that Coppola was returning to the genre.

Twixt follows Baltimore as he stops at a small town on a flailing book tour and becomes inspired by a local murder mystery. In his sleep he is visited by a mysterious adolescent girl named V and is given a tour and literary input from the master of macabre himself, Edgar Allan Poe. Add to this vampires, child murder, religious zealotry, a clock tower where the Devil may reside, and a quirky sheriff who wants to be a horror writer. All of this and more make for an intriguing plot, but it unfortunately never comes together in a cohesive manner. Too many plot points are thrown into the mix and too few end up paying off.

Coppola had originally conceived of the project in a dream, and he wanted to perform live editing before live audiences like an orchestra conductor, adjusting the movie to the reactions of the viewers. This is all very ambitious and interesting, but it proved too unwieldy and eventually he had to settle on a final cut, one which is tonally uneven and ultimately unsatisfying. There is black humor throughout, but the handling of it is sometimes so awkward that instead of laughing, I felt uncomfortable. The performances are adequate, but nobody is turning in their best work or elevating the drab dialogue.

Looking back at his take on Dracula, it’s almost difficult to believe that the man who put poetry on celluloid in such a fluid, beautiful manner in that film created the Gothic scenery in Twixt. A veneer of artifice effects nearly every scene – what might have been surreal instead looks cheap. It’s not an aesthetically pleasing film despite its best efforts. The title refers to Baltimore’s state as being “betwixt” reality and the dream world, but neither realm is ever very convincing.

I really wanted to like this movie. As someone who admires Poe, a film that is very much an ode to that influential American author is one I want very much to succeed. Yet other than providing trivia for me to catch and a few allusions, the scenes with Poe don’t end up adding much to the plot. Will we ever get a great film deserving of that great author? I truly hope so, but this is not it.

Grade: D+

Movie Review – You’re Next (2011)

Movie Review – You’re Next (2011)

You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, quickly made a reputation for itself when it first premiered in 2011. As a home invasion film, the aesthetic owes a lot to 2008’s The Strangers – inspiration can clearly be seen in some superficial ways, such as the shot compositions, the use of music, the lighting, and of course the masked intruders. However, whereas as The Strangers was a straight-forward, self-serious slow-burn, You’re Next is a romp of gore and bloody antics.

The plot involves a family reunion at a house deep in the countryside. Two wealthy parents have invited their adult children and their significant others to gather for a long weekend, but almost immediately find themselves assailed by masked men wielding crossbows, machetes, and axes. However, one of the guests – the girlfriend of one of the son’s – is surprisingly capable and competent in this intense situation and begins to fight back like a blood-bathed Kevin McCallister.

The plot is too predictable to be scary or shocking, but the gore is practical, abundant, and well-utilized. The film gets rolling quickly and invites the audience to come along for the ride, giving us one of the most memorable final girls we’ve had in years. Really, the majority of the film is generally run-of-the-mill, but the final act makes up for much of that.

There are some flaws. The shaky cam is overused and gratuitous and we learn almost nothing about most of the characters. Having the crux of the film involve close family members requires exceptional acting to portray the grief of losing loved ones, and few of the performers, though some may be notable within the genre, are able to accomplishing this. You never really get a sense that this is a family with history. One actor, however, should be mentioned: Ti West, one of horror’s current notable directors whose films include The House of the Devil (2009), The Innkeepers (2011), and The Sacrament (2013), self-referentially plays a pretentious filmmaker.

In terms of a home invasion film, You’re Next is heavy on gore but light on scares. It’s a fantasy fulfillment we all have (at least I hope it’s not just me) of taking out intruders with extreme prejudice. It’s that body-count kind of slasher where you look forward to the next kill to see what practical effects will be employed, but not because you care a thing about the characters.

Grade: C+

Movie Review – Kill List (2011)

Movie Review – Kill List (2011)

Kill List (2011) is an overall impressive piece of British horror directed by Ben Wheatley that almost feels like three different movies. The film’s first act focuses on the marital troubles of Jay (Neil Maskell), who hasn’t worked in eight months. The financial strains are causing him and his wife to squabble as his young son tries to understand it all. Jay at first appears meek and docile but we soon discover he’s a former hitman with a nasty violent streak, and being in need of money it isn’t long before he teams back up with his partner and best friend Gal (Michael Smiley) for a few more contract kills. This turns the film in its next act into a twisted buddy road trip that is as wonderfully filmed and acted as it is brutal, particularly a certain hammer scene.

Of course, things aren’t what they seem and either Jay’s sanity is slipping or something more is going on. The final act is strongly reminiscent of The Wicker Man (1974) with the revelation of occult machinations and, for me at least, the film here feels too divorced from what came before, both in terms of quality and plausibility. The final shots leave more questions than answers, and I was ultimately underwhelmed and dissatisfied with where the story went. I can see where the seeds were planted for the final twist, and while I respect the effort the narrative lost a lot of its impact on me.

Nevertheless, this is all very subjective and I acknowledge that many, if not most, will disagree with me, and I can certainly see why some would really find the ending effective. I still strongly recommend Kill List as there is some undeniably good filmmaking to be found throughout.

Grade: C+

Movie Review – Scream 4 (2011)

Movie Review – Scream 4 (2011)

Scream 4 (2011) is the fourth Scream franchise entry and comes a full decade after the last movie. Wes Craven once again directs and Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream and Scream 2, returns as the writer.

The film picks back up with consummate survivor Sidney Prescott, played by a still stunning and capable Neve Campbell, who returns to her hometown as a last stop on a book tour. But of course a Ghostface copycat is once again making foreboding phone calls and slashing at people close to her, including her teenage cousin, Jill (Emma Roberts). Old faces return and some new ones are added, mostly to be stuck like pincushions.

Of course, true to form, the script is laden with meta-commentary mostly directed at the nature of horror remakes, particularly their shortcomings. A lot of this works well, though sometimes the film seems to slip too far out of satire and into spoof, as Scream 3 did before it. The reveal is a jab on the nature of the modern celebrity, and while I appreciate what the film attempts to do the result is clunky. Some of the dialogue is funny, but if you think about the plot too hard you’ll soon find holes big enough to fall into, so mind the gaps.

I am once again perturbed by a film that points out clichés and then uses them so often. For instance, are cops really incapable of running after a suspect? I wish Craven would have stepped up his directing game in some scenes as little tension is built throughout the film and there are once again too many fake jump-scares. I wanted the movie to nod its head at the inevitable teenage audience and say, “We know these tricks, we invented them,” and then like Dan Akroyd in The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) say, “You wanna see something really scary?” Craven made his mark by pioneering the “video nasties,” and while I don’t want to see extensive rape scenes I was hoping for more drama in the kills, giving the audience an uncomfortable intimacy with the knife. It is, after all, rated-R, and the horror trend that had the most prominence between this film and the last was the subgenre known pejoratively as “torture-porn.” While it’s far from my preferred subgenre, I would have liked to have seen this new Scream take a few notes from it. But instead Ghostface stumbles like always and more by luck than by skill gets his victims, usually with a quick stab as the person goes down dead, blood dripping from their mouths. Yawn.

A real knife attack is quick and relentless. Police officers are trained to fear knives, as a wielder can close a distance of many yards and stab repeatedly before an officer can draw their gun (check out training videos on YouTube and you’ll never take a Hollywood knife fight seriously again). It’s terrifying in its primal brutality and in the violation of the blade biting into flesh. Instead, like most teen slashers of the past two decades, the punch of the violence is pulled and true fear never looms its head.

Likewise, I was hoping for more from Sidney. She’s noble, brave, and a fighter, and I really shouldn’t complain. But I was hoping she’d be confronted by Ghostface and reveal that she’s been training in self-defense against knife attacks for the last decade, and then kick his ass out a window before he can run away. It would have been a nice twist and a message that says we’re over this mediocre slasher crap, and it might have been a more appropriate metaphor for a post-9/11 Scream in which horror victims became more proactive. That being said, Sidney is well-written and portrayed perfectly by Campbell, who is the highlight of the film, as one who refuses to be a victim.

The other performances are a mixed bag, though Rory Culkin does well and is in what is perhaps my favorite scene. Hayden Panettiere eventually won me over towards the end. Emma Roberts, who plays Jill, doesn’t sell the role in my opinion, and couldn’t rise above the trite dialogue.

Scream 4 is an improvement when compared to Scream 3. That’s not high praise, but it remains an enjoyable film that, I think, ends the film series on a better note than its predecessor.

Grade: C+

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