Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Contracted Movie Review – Best Horror Movie of the Year

Runtime: 78 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Rating: NR
Director: Eric England

Samantha is a young girl with some serious problems. After a fight with her on-again/off-again girlfriend Nikki, she heads to a party thrown by her close friend Alice. She meets Riley, one of the customers from the restaurant where she works, and lets Alice talk her into having a few drinks. She begins feeling a little rough around the edges and eventually winds up having sex with a random stranger from the party in her car.

When she wakes the next day, she discovers that she suffers from some unique symptoms. It doesn't take long before those symptoms completely take over her life. Her eyes turn an alarming shade of red, her fingernails begin falling off, and she develops an odd "rash" that looks like something taking over the veins in her stomach.

Samantha finally makes the decision to see a doctor, who confirms that she has some strange type of sexually transmitted disease. She then learns from Alice that the police came to her home looking for the man she slept with during the party. As Samantha tries to determine what to do next, we learn more about her past, including her battles with drug addiction, her relationship with her mother, and her relationship with Nikki, which led to the other woman throwing her out of their shared apartment.

I don't throw around terms like "best" very often, but damn if Contracted isn't the best horror film of the year. The first time I saw a trailer for the film, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it. Luckily, my roommate saved it in an app on his phone and reminded me when it came out on DVD. There was something so grotesque about the trailer that fascinated me and made me want to sit down and watch the film as soon as possible.

Contracted isn't your typical horror movie. It combines elements of nearly every type of genre flick out there. You have the relationship moments between Nikki and Samantha and later Samantha and Alice and then Samantha and Riley, you have the action scenes, and there is even a little comedy thrown in there too. Those few lighthearted scenes really break up the intensity of the film.

I have seen a number of horror films throughout my life, but Contracted got to me in a way that none of those other films had. It didn't seem like five minutes could pass without me wanting to look away from the screen or shriek, and I know it wasn't just me because my roommate felt the same way. There's a scene where Samantha's boss forces her to come into the restaurant despite her claims of being sick and despite seeing her in person. When she notices her fingernails coming off right after making salad for a customer, you know what's going to happen but you can't look away from it either.

The one thing I wasn't crazy about is the character of Nikki. When the film opens, their relationship is over, but the two still remain in contact. Nikki tells her ex-girlfriend that she'll try to make it to the party, but the first time we see her, she comes across as cold and unfeeling. She treats Samantha as more of a former friend than a lover, which was difficult to watch as someone recently coming out of a bad relationship. It also made me wonder if writer/director England wanted to draw a comparison between love and drugs. It almost seems as if Samantha uses Nikki as a substitute for her addiction. Instead of using drugs, she constantly turns to someone who clearly doesn't care about her or want to be with her. Once again, it wasn't easy to watch their shared scenes, and I imagine that the relationship will be hard for others recent breakup survivors to handle too.

The mixed reviews surrounding Contracted definitely surprised me. As soon as the movie ended, my roomie asked me what I thought and my response was, "that was the best horror movie I've seen all year." It had everything that I wanted out of a horror film, complete with some truly disgusting moments that made me uncomfortable. If you're looking for a movie that will make you think twice before you jump into bed with someone or accept a drink from someone at a party, Contracted is the movie for you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Darkroom Movie Review – Beware of Modeling Job Offers

Runtime: 80 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Britt Napier

Michelle is a woman desperately in need of some help. After a drinking and driving accident took the life of her boyfriend, she found herself in rehab and working closely with Rachel (Elizabeth Rohm, Angel). After she leaves rehab, Rachel offers to set her up working for a photographer named Larry. When Michelle arrives at his palatial home, she learns that he really needs her to work as a model because his flaked for the day.

Though Michelle isn't comfortable with the idea, she agrees to model for him. His assistant helps her pick out an outfit and do her hair and makeup. Michelle then finds herself trapped in a room and watching another woman in the same outfit on a live video feed on her television. When she eventually escapes from her room, she learns that Larry has a close relationship with Rachel and that both want her to repent for her sins. Until she admits the truth, they won't let her escape, but she somehow knows that even if she does give into their demands, there is still no escape for her...

I saw a trailer for Darkroom a few weeks ago and didn't think much of it until I realized that it was actually in my Nextflix queue. (BTW, I refuse to call it "My List;" it's still my queue.) It had an interesting premise, but sadly, it didn't really deliver on the premise. The trailer made it seem like a tight little thriller about a woman trapped in a big home and trying to escape a serial killer. It's really a slow and prodding movie about a woman trying to escape a handful of religious nut jobs that refuse to believe that she is free of sin.

Of course, we learn that she really isn't free of sin. Every time that she talks about her boyfriend's death, she flashes back to the moment when they all climbed in the car. They show that scene so many times that you just know it isn't the whole story. By the time she admits that she was the one driving drunk, you really don't care anymore.

It doesn't help that the movie introduces characters and expects us to care about them for no reason. Oh, that one woman tied up in a room is a girl that we saw for five seconds in the beginning? Well of course Michelle should risk her life to save her then. The characters that we do like and care about end up being just as crazy as the killers. As soon as Darkroom finished, I deleted it from my queue and started forgetting about it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Millennium Bug – Oh no, it's a giant bug!

Runtime: 88 minutes
Release Date: June 3, 2011
Rating: NR
Director: Kenneth Cran

Recently married Byron Haskin makes the mistake of taking his teenage daughter Clarissa with him on his honeymoon with his new wife Joany. Byron talks about the millennium and how he's so glad that his family can escape all those troubles. He also lets us know that he's taking them to an abandoned town where no one has lived for years.

Just in case we wondered if the town really is empty, we get a scene involving a ground of inbred hicks living not too far away. After a blond woman gives birth, the papa of the clan realizes that the baby is another mutant and orders his son/nephew/cousin/brother to take it outside and kill it. As we hear a shotgun, the mama of the clan points out that they need some fresh blood if they want to stop having mutant babies.

Cue the Haskin family arriving and setting up camp for the night. The mutants kidnap Clarissa and Joany and take them back to their cabin in the woods. At the same time, a crazy looking guy appears and starts rambling about a giant millennium bug living in the woods. It turns out that it's a random bug that only appears once every millennium. Just as the rednecks start taking control over their new women, the bug decides to finally make its appearance.

The Millennium Bug is an awesomely bad movie. It's the kind of movie that you watch with your friends and have a good time just laughing at all the characters and people. The "inbred rednecks" are pretty much just normal looking people in dirty clothes. If the movie didn't make a point of constantly pointing out that they were hicks or inbred, I probably would think they were just a family living in the woods.

When we first started watching it, we were wondering what was up with the plotline. Despite coming out in 2011, the movie is set in 1999/2000, and it almost seems like the screenwriters and director decided to just sit on the script for awhile. That actually makes sense because we're far enough away now that we can laugh about how scared everyone was at the time. You can't help but laugh when the characters mention things like the computers all going haywire and people rioting in the streets.

The movie made a splash because it uses real and practical effects in lieu of CGI and computer effects. A lot of people apparently hated that, but I have to be honest, I didn't even notice when I was watching it. There is so much bad CGI out there that I just assumed this was another one.

The Millennium Bug is far from everyone's cup of tea, but I found it pretty funny and entertaining. Not funny and entertaining enough to make me sit down and watch it again, but good enough that I didn't mind wasting a few hours on a winter night.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Fog – What kind of fog moves against the wind?

Runtime: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 14, 2005
Rating: PG-13
Director: Rupert Wainwright

In 1871, William Blake desperately needed a new home for his people, all of whom were lepers, including his beautiful and much younger wife Elizabeth. After meeting some people living on an island off the coast of Oregon, he agreed to buy half their land and move his people there. The people then showed up, stole all of his money, and set his boat on fire, leaving him and his family and friends to die. Blake then cursed the people who killed him.

Nearly one hundred years later, the residents of the island prepare for the upcoming anniversary with a new statue devoted to its founders, the same people who killed the boat. Nick and his friends accidentally disrupt some artifacts while on their boat, which leads the ghosts of the murdered to come back to life.

This problem doesn't phase him given that his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth recently arrived back in town. Elizabeth receives a pocket watch from a creepy guy not long after arriving, and when she looks at the watch, she notices that weird things start happening. Nick also has to deal with Stevie, the radio show host he recently had a fling with, even though he supposedly remains devoted to his ex. After a mysterious fog descends over the town, everyone needs to come together to survive the night.

Pro tip: Do not watch The Fog remake with someone who is a big fan of the original. Not only do I think this movie is okay, but I actually own a copy. Unfortunately, that copy is somehow lost, so I decided to give it a go on Netflix one night. That led to my roommate sitting down next to me and constantly pointing out how things happened in the original while making it clear that the original is much better.

Confession time: I have only seen the original version of The Fog once and I pretty much don't remember anything about it. Ask me about this movie, and I can tell you character names, plot points, and other random facts.

The best and worst thing about this movie is the acting. Selma Blair is perfect as Stevie, and I actually just read that she was the original choice for the role but almost lost out on it. She does a good job of portraying a single mother and strong woman, though I do have a hard time believing that she would have a one night stand with someone like Tom Welling.

Speaking of Welling, did he even bother acting in this flick? It plays like some random universe where Clark Kent accidentally landed on a random island instead of Smallville. It probably doesn't help that he has absolutely no chemistry with Maggie Grace. Grace plays Elizabeth just like she does every role in her career, from the vapid and annoying chick on Lost to the vapid and annoying daughter in the Taken films. It's hard to believe that one man would fall in love with the character let alone two.

Though I liked The Fog the first few times I saw it, the last time was not the charm. I finally saw why the movie got such bad reviews when it first came out and why so many people still like it today. It's just a fairly forgettable horror flick that came out during the mass produced PG-13 horror movie days.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Secret Village – Not so Secretly Bad

Runtime: 89 minutes
Release Date: October 18, 2013
Rating: NR
Director: Swammy M. Kandan

Rachel is a journalist interested in studying ergot poisoning in a small Massachusetts town. Having grown up in a similar town, she often studied the Salem Witch Trials and knows that historians think it was caused by ergot poisoning. After doing some research, she learns that another town suffers from a similar outbreak every few years.

Not long after arriving, she finds that the woman she rented the house from also rented it to a young writer. Greg wants to write a new play, but he doesn't know what topic to choose. Rachel meets a local man named Paul, who agrees to help her with her research. After gathering some documents for her, she stops by his house and finds him dead. The more she delves into the story of the town, the more the locals make it clear that they don't want her there.

I really don't know what to say about The Secret Village. My roommate and I actually rented it a few weeks ago, but I didn't get a chance to watch it before it was due back. He pointed it out the other night when we were in the store, and we decided to go ahead and grab it. I made the mistake of checking the IMDB page for something and saw its low rating, but I thought there was no way it was actually that bad. Guess what? It was.

It was actually so bad that he and I were both struggling to keep our eyes open. We thought it was almost over, check the time, and it still had 45 minutes left. I started watching the rest of the movie the next day, and he actually decided to go up to his room and watch Netflix instead. I made it all the way through the movie but just barely.

The Secret Village is one of those movies that's actually a little hard to follow. Let's use one scene with Rachel as an example. She's walking into a restaurant, sees a creepy man following her, and runs inside. When she turns around, Greg is in front of her and the creepy guy is in the lobby. A few scenes later, she recalls the same event again, only this time, the creepy guy is in front of her and Greg is the one in the lobby. The director also does this thing where he uses the same scene but with different angles. Oh look, they're kissing...Now they're kissing again from a different they're kissing again...oh look, they're kissing again from yet another angle. Had he cut those moments out, the movie would have been a lot shorter.

I'm all for giving smaller films a chance, and I actually love some of the more independent movies. The Secret Village? It just made me sad that I watched Haunter last so I would have good memories of the night.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Frozen Ground Movie Review

Runtime: 105 minutes
Release Date: August 23, 2013
Rating: R
Director: Scott Walker

Jack Halcombe (Nicholas Cage) is a police detective tasked with bringing down a violent serial killer preying on women in Anchorage, Alaska. Robert Hansen (John Cusack, Identity) is that serial killer he wants to find. After abducting a teenage girl, Cindy, who works as a stripper and prostitute, Hansen makes the mistake of not fighting hard enough when she escapes. Cindy goes directly to the police and agrees to help Halcombe find the man who took her captive.

I am a true crime junky. I've seen hundreds of movies about serial killers, I own every book Ann Rule ever wrote, my tablet is full of true crime books from other authors I bought with my Christmas gift cards, and I considered going to graduate school to study forensic psychology. That said, The Frozen Ground is one of those films that, to quote Peter Griffin, really grinds my gears.

The film attempts to follow the true story, but for some reason, decided to rename Glenn Flothe to Jack Halcombe. Given the stories about Cage, maybe he just didn't like the name because it didn't sound like a superhero. Who knows? It also does a poor job of delving into the actual story. Yes, we hear about Cindy, but we don't really hear about anything else. It almost seems like they just want us to care about one person and not all of his other victims.

And, caring about that one victim is almost impossible when they decided to cast Vanessa Hudgens in the role. Hudgens, who I most recently saw in that awful Spring Breakers movie, is hard to root for. She works as a stripper, does large amounts of drugs, and is just generally not a nice character. I don't want anyone to think that I don't give a crap about some people, but I don't give a crap about Hudgens. She's so unlikeable that I found myself wishing her scenes were shorter.

No one really does a solid job in this flick. I like Nicholas Cage, but this seems like yet another one of those movies that he only took because the script landed on his desk. I don't know how anyone could believe him as a police officer, let alone a detective who cares so much about bringing down a serial killer that he will do anything it takes to stop him.

That brings us to John Cusack. As a woman, I have a crush on Cusack. It started with Say Anything, but flicks like Identity, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, and 1408 only helped sustain my crush. Seeing him in The Frozen Ground made me wonder what the heck he was thinking. Though he could portray a serial killer with one arm tied behind his back, he did a poor job in this one. Putting a pair of glasses on a guy won't make him look like a killer.

All in all, I wish that I had skipped The Frozen Ground. I grabbed it one night from the video store and only paid a buck something to rent it, but I wish I had just skipped it and watched Say Anything instead.