Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: The Pyramid

Runtime: 89 minutes
Release Date: December 5, 2015
Rating: R
Director: Gregory Levasseur

A group of archaeologists are working in Egypt when they uncover an odd pyramid with three sides. Among those working on the dig are Dr. Holden and his daughter Nora, who is also a doctor in archeology. Though they manage to access the pyramid and find a tunnel that leads deep inside, as soon as they gain access, some weird gas comes out and kills a ton of people.

Not long after, they receive word that they must leave for their safety. Another riot occurred nearby and the area is no longer safe for the doctors and their researchers. In the hopes of getting some information quickly, they send in a robot to capture some video and photos. The robot suddenly goes dark after being attacked by something they can barely see. Instead of getting the hell out like normal people, a group of five, led by the father daughter doctor team, decide to go in and check things out.

It doesn't take long before they find themselves hopelessly lost inside the pyramid and its many tunnels with no hopes of escape. When a section of the roof collapses and pins one of the group beneath, they make the decision to leave him behind and go in even deeper to possibly find a way out. The rest of the movie plays out just the way you might expect with the exception of some killer thousands old Egyptian cats.

In a long ago and far off place, namely my living room about a month ago, we saw a trailer for a new horror movie that looked great. The movie showed a small group of people trapped inside a pyramid with unseen creatures following them. Think The Descent but in a pyramid instead of a cave. Instead of getting that movie, we got The Pyramid.

The main problem with The Pyramid is that it didn't feel unsettling. How can you have five, then four, etc. people trapped inside a pyramid without it feeling unsettling? It actually rarely felt like they were in any type of danger. They would spend 10-20 minutes walking around without anything really happening. We would get one shot of them in danger, then it would end too quickly, and it was back to the same old, same old. Not to mention the fact that we lost two of our main characters in what felt like five minutes.

We had Nora constantly worrying about the guy they left behind, and we had the doctor constantly worrying about his daughter. And can I just say that Nora is extremely annoying? Just once I would like to see a horror movie with a father and daughter where I actually gave a damn about the relationship they had. Nora was so bad at times that I was literally yelling at the television and begging him to leave her behind.

The one good thing The Pyramid had going for it were the cannibalistic Egyptian cats. The first time these cats came out of nowhere, I did a little half jump in my seat. They popped up just enough times to get your heart going without being too annoying. As I had a small gray Egyptian looking cat curled up on the floor next to me, it did give me pause. Sadly, my little cat is scarier than this movie was.

Monday, May 4, 2015

From the Dark Movie Review – Two People, One Monster

Runtime: 90 minutes
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Rating: NR
Director: Conor McMahon

Sarah and Mark are a couple heading off on vacation together in the country. Though they followed the directions perfectly, they make a few wrong turns and wind up lost in the countryside. Though Sarah wants to call her father for help, Mark makes her put down the phone and volunteers to go for help himself, claiming there must be a home nearby.

After following the road, Mark finds a home in the middle of nowhere. As no one answers the door, he lets himself in and shouts for help. Instead of finding help, he's tasked with providing help after the owner of the home stumbles in bleeding profusely from his neck. Waiting back at the car, Sarah begins wondering if she made the right decision believing in her boyfriend until Mark pops back up and demands that she come back to the house with him to help its owner. They get there just in time to find that the man transformed into a monster and that he's looking for his next victim.

I cannot believe that more people aren't talking about this film and that it didn't get better reviews. It was one of those movies I watched with no expectations and ended up liking it so much that I keep recommending it to others.

The director does a good job of setting up the tension between the two very early on. Sarah continually makes fun of his new hair cut, which seems to irritate him, and he confesses to her on the car ride that he will probably never get married. By the time they separate and he goes for help, it's easy to understand why she would rather call someone for help than trust him to actually find help.

Conor MacMahon, the director, also added some intense atmosphere to the scenes where Sarah is on her own. There is a moment where she's leaning on the car and smoking a cigarette. The background gets a little fuzzy, which makes it hard to see what's happening behind her, until you realize that there is someone standing in the woods and watching her. Another intense scene occurs when she bends over to do something and a hand comes out of nowhere and moves right past her face.

The first half of the movie is really good, but the second half drops off a bit. The two attempt to escape through the woods and wind up running back to the house, which lets the monster stalk them and leads to them hiding in a bathroom with the door locked. Once Sarah finally goes off on a search for help by herself, it really gets going again.

Despite some ups and downs, I would probably rank From the Dark one of the best horror flicks I've seen this year. It has some great acting, a few intense moments, and just enough tension to leave you on edge.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Houses October Built – Go Behind the Scenes

Runtime: 91 minutes
Release Date: October 10, 2014
Rating: UR
Director: Bobby Roe

Zack, Jeff, Brandy, Bobby, and Mikey are a group of friends who decide to make a documentary about what really happens behind the scenes of haunted houses and other attractions. Armed with a motorhome and a camera, they hit the road to film some of the top haunted houses and talk with the people who work in those houses.

Despite getting some good footage, they can't help noticing that they keep coming across the same places. It seems like every spot they hit has the same scares and even the same type of people working there. Though Jeff keeps promising them that they'll find something better at the next stop, the creepiest thing they see is a little girl in a porcelain mask with no hair who seems to show up at every stop.

That leads to one of the creepiest and weirdest scenes in the movie, where that same costumed character follows them back to the motorhome. Despite asking her if she needs help and trying to talk to her, she just sits down and starts making strange noises before eventually screaming and running away.

At one of their later stops, Jeff comes across two guys who claim they know how to get to the Blue Skeleton, one of the hottest and scariest attractions in the country. Often considered an urban legend, the location changes every year and visitation is by invite only. After finding the first clue to its location, they discover that someone or something is stalking them. They find a bloody heart in their refrigerator, footage of them sleeping on their camera, and blue skull masks left on the front of the RV that reveals a group spent hours watching them the night before. Even before they find the last clue, they realize that finding the Blue Skeleton might not be all they thought.

The Houses October Built actually comes across like two different films, and both are pretty damn good. The first is a documentary of what happens behind the scenes at haunted attractions. We see interviews with costumed workers and hear some stories about people who actually died in those attractions. The second film is a found footage documentary about what happened to a group of friends who went down the rabbit hole. Mixing the documentary footage with the character footage was a smart choice. We get a little break from those characters and learn more about what might motivate them to go on a hunt like this.

As many of the actors have little to no experience, I went in not expecting a whole lot and was pretty surprised. Zack Andres as Zack and Jeff Larson as Jeff were the two real standouts. All of the actors though did a great job of making me believe they were actually friends and that they really would take a random road trip together.

And can I just say that the porcelain doll character was just plain creepy? Since she kept randomly popping up, you never really knew when she might appear next. It got to the point where anytime the characters went down a dark street or opened a door, I expected her to be standing there staring at them. Add to that a scene with two rednecks accosting Brandy in the bathroom of a grungy bar, and I was all in.

Though it got some poor/bad reviews, I enjoyed The Houses October built. It's currently on Netflix for those who want to give it a try.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

Runtime: 98 minutes
Release Date: January 2, 2015
Rating: PG-13
Director: Tom Harper

Eve Parker is a school teacher working in London during World War II. After a series of bombings, the headmistress decides to take the children of parents who couldn't leave to Crythin Gifford, the same town from the first film. Along the way, Eve meets a handsome pilot named Harry and later encounters an odd man who seems most displeased at her bringing kids to the town.

The two women take the children from the house from the first movie, so you know this won't end well. Not long after arriving, Eve has a dream that reveals she once had a baby and gave it up. When she wakes, she has an encounter with the mysterious lady in black, who makes comment revealing that she knows about Eve's history.

Though Eve initially doesn't believe in ghosts, she's forced to change her mind after a series of experiences in the old house. One young boy, Edward, shares a closeness with Eve and seems to look at her as his surrogate mother. As his parents died and he no longer speaks, she struggles to maintain that closeness and to protect him, which is hard given that the other kids bully him.

After several of the children die at what appears to be their own hands, Eve locates an old record that tells the story of what happened to the female ghost and why the woman in black haunts the old house. She also discovers that Harry has his own secrets and his own reasons for not wanting to get stuck in the house. As it becomes clear that the woman in black is targeting Edward, Even must fight back to save the child, herself, and her new love.

Oh dear god. I cannot explain how much I disliked The Woman in Black 2. The best word I can find to describe it is long. Despite running less than 100 minutes, it's the type of movie that feels like it takes hours to finish. I literally kept checking the time because I kept thinking that it had to be over, and it seemed like the movie just kept getting longer.

One of the only things it had going for it was its atmosphere. That house is so damn creepy that I think you could set any ghost story there and still have a great background. There were also a few too many jump scenes that tried too hard to scare viewers. Since most of those scenes ended on such a down note, none of the later jump scenes really paid off. As someone who loves older buildings, I got a kick out of the settings, but that was about all I will remember of this one.

Friday, April 24, 2015

It Follows Movie Review – Don't Have Sex With Random Strangers

Runtime: 100 minutes
Release Date: March 27, 2015
Rating: R
Director: David Robert Mitchell

Just in case we needed another reason not to have sex with people we just met, here comes It Follows.

A young woman runs out of her house clad only in panties, a tank, and heels. After a neighbor asks if she's okay, her father comes and yells for her. Running back to her house, she runs off and eventually finds her way to the beach, where she spends the night shaking in fear. The following morning, we find her dead on the beach.

It Follows then introduces us to Jay, a pretty blond teenager with a crush on a boy named Hugh. While playing a game in the movie theater, Hugh points out a woman in the back. When Jay doesn't see her, he freaks out and pulls her out of the theater. On their second date, they have sex before he chloroforms her and takes her to an abandoned building. Once there, he tells her that she now has "it" and that "it" will follow her. He shows her a naked woman stalking them and explains that it can take on many different forms and once it kills her, it will come for him. Hugh also warns her to have sex quickly to pass it on to someone else.

After Hugh leaves her partially naked on the road in front of her house, her family rushes her to the hospital. Jay sinks into a deep depression and keeps noticing the weird people that seem to follow her. Though she tries to explain what happened to her sister and friends, no one really seems to believe her until the attacks begin happening. They track down Hugh's former apartment and discover that he rented it under a fake name before actually finding him, but he offers little in the way of help. Jay and her friends finally go away together while she copes with deciding what to do next while it keeps following her.

I have mixed feelings about It Follows. On the one hand, I liked it when I first saw it, though I do wonder if I would have liked it less had I not seen it immediately after Unfriended. On the other hand, there wasn't much memorable about it, and I have to admit that I have a hard time remembering a lot about the movie, even though I just saw it last night.

So many people compare it to classic Hollywood horror films like Halloween, but I actually found the homages a little distracting. It literally seems like the director couldn't decide which decade he wanted the movie set in. Everyone, except for a few people, seem to drive really old cars, no one ever has or uses a cell phone, and the interior of homes seem really outdated, which makes it seem like a 70s or 80s movie. But, one of the characters uses a tablet shaped like a clam shell, which tends to bring it into the modern era. It probably wouldn't bug too many people, but it bothered me for some reason.

It Follows did have some good moments though. Some of the forms that it takes were particularly disturbing. I'm not too crazy about seeing a giant, a deformed kid, or a woman with one breast hanging out turning up in my house. The director also created a great atmosphere with those forms showing up just behind Jay or off to the side of the camera. Unfortunately, I think he took it just a little too far. It literally got to the point where it seemed like there was a "fake it" behind Jay in every scene.

Like I said, I'm a little on the fence about this one. It was a lot better than Unfriended, but I'm not sure if I really liked it as much as I would have, had I watched it on its own.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Animal Movie Review – Seriously, Never Ever Go Into the Woods

Runtime: 86 minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Rating: NR
Director: Brett Simmons

Alissa, her stepbrother, their significant others, and their mutual friend drive to the middle of nowhere for a daytime hike. Jeff, the stepbrother, is something of a man's man. Not only does he come fully prepared, but he keeps pushing them to go a little further. He and Alissa once took the same trail often with his father when they were younger.

Jeff's girlfriend Mandy wants to turn around and go back, and Alissa agrees. Though she rightly points out that it's getting dark and that they don't want to be out in the middle of nowhere at night, he keeps arguing, which leads to the two fighting. Alissa then accidentally stumbles upon what's left of a dead body.

As a large monster/animal hybrid jumps out of the woods, everyone runs for cover. They eventually find themselves running into an isolated cabin in the woods. A random man uncovers the door, lets them inside, and barricades the door behind them. The man, Carl, and his wife Vicky were on a business trip when their car broke down. After wandering through the woods, they found their way to the house. Upstairs, is a man named Douglas who briefly popped up at the beginning of the film after his own run in with the same animal.

The ragtag group of survivors lock themselves inside the old house in the hopes of making it through the night. One manages to get cell phone service long enough to call for help. Rangers promise to track their cell to the nearest tower and send help, and both Alissa and Jeff's parents promise to send their own friends in the area out to look for them. As the night grows on and the animal gets closer, it becomes clear that they might not make it until the morning.

Animal is another movie I randomly stumbled across on Netflix and one that I watched without expecting much. It starts out as one of those classic horror flicks with all the typical stereotypes. There is naturally a girl who has to stop and put on her makeup before going into the woods, the gay friend who is so effeminate that it made my gay friend keep cringing and bringing it up, and the guy is so butch and masculine that he makes everyone else look bad. As the movie unfolds though, we find out there is more to the eye. The girl with all the makeup is just worried about losing her boyfriend, and Mr. Butchy McButch might not be as butch as he looks.

You also have to love any movie that features Joey Lauren Adams. Here, she plays Vicky and does an adequate job, but her role is a little one dimensional. She pretty much just serves as the wife of a guy tasked with leading a group of survivors. While she does eventually get her own story line, the movie is almost over by that point.

The director did do a pretty damn good job of showing the animal, and I want to give it up for the special effects team. With its gruesome teeth, the saliva dripping off its fangs, and the way it just shot out of the woods when I least expected it, I couldn't wait to see a little more. Animal is currently on Netflix, if you want to give it a go.

Unfriended Movie Review – Reminds Me Why I Dislike Most Teens

Runtime: 82 minutes
Release Date: April 17, 2015
Rating: R
Director: Levan Gabriadze

Unfriended opens with a short, very short, description of what happened to a teenage girl named Laura. After getting drunk at a party, someone filmed the aftermath and posted it online, which led to her getting brutally teased and taunted by others online. Unable to cope with their bars, she shot herself in the head, which was also filmed and posted online.

Blaire was one of Laura's closest friends and is chatting with her boyfriend Mitch online on the one year anniversary of her friends suicide. Their talk turns dirty just as their friends start calling. Adam, Ken, and Jess interrupt their Skype call without their permission and notice an unknown person in their call. Despite hanging up and calling each other separately, the person, who has no avatar or photograph, remains on the line.

Assuming it's their friend Val, they call her and put her in the conversation too. Blaire keeps trying to talk with Mitch who doesn't respond. When he finally does, he tells her that someone hacked Laura's account, which leads to her getting a message from her dead friend too. Though she attempts to unfriend the account, the button goes dark and prevents her. She eventually memorializes the account to put an end to the messages.

After typical teenage chitchat, the unknown person in their conversation finally rears its head. Hacking into Jess's Facebook account, the person posts a number of pictures of a drunk Val, which leads to random people telling her to kill herself and taunting her in the same way people once did Laura. Blaming Jess, Val logs out of their conversation. As the night goes on, the person finally reveals her identity and makes it clear that she's out for revenge. Each of the teenagers must slowly reveal some of their own secrets that they hoped would remain hidden.

We sat down and watched an episode of Modern Family a few weeks ago that took place entirely on computer and phone screens. Though it was an interesting premise, it grew tired about halfway through. Take the same idea, multiply it by 2.5, and you'll have Unfriended.

When I found out our local drive in planned to show two horror movies back to back, I knew where I would be that Friday night. Sadly for me, this was the first movie they showed. Despite a supposed run time of 82 minutes, the movie was actually just over an hour long, somewhere around 70 minutes or so. The person next to us screamed that he wanted his money back, and we came across multiple other people who absolutely hated it.

I think the problem was with the way the film plays and not the plot itself. Imagine sitting in a room trapped with five teenagers chatting online. That should give you some idea of this movie. It's literally a group of teens on Skype, sending instant messages, playing music, and talking on their cell phones. I can see why it might appeal to teens, but I think I'm outside its target demographic.

The sad thing is that Unfriended actually had some good scenes. I've never seen someone suffocated to death with a curling iron down the throat, and there was a scene where a camera randomly shows up just behind one of the characters. Those scenes left me wishing the movie had more of those moments. I'm still not even sure if the second movie was that good or if it just looked good in comparison.