Film Review : The Orphanage (2007)

IMDB Score – 7.5
Rotten Tomato Score – 87%

Directed By – J.A. Bayona
Starring – Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Mabel Rivera, Montserrat Carulla, Andrés Gertrúdix, and Geraldine Chaplin

A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.

It’s funny how full of shit I am. I told myself that I would be watching a horror movie a night because it’s my favorite month of the year, October. You know how many I’ve seen this month? Two, including this one. That’s pathetic. My viewing schedule has developed a case of the crazy and I take what I can get. Tonight I took a walk down to the library to find some interesting films to watch over the week. I wanted mostly horror films but I couldn’t help take out a few Criterion films which I’ll be watching over the weekend. I guess I’ll just have to dust off the old Netflix account and browse the horror selection there. I’m sure I’ll be disappointed. The Orphanage has managed to escape me for years so I decided to finally pay it a visit which actually turned out to be a wonderful idea.

I loved the film for the most part. You don’t get many horror films like this.

Slow. Detailed. Well acted.

It reminded me of Ti West in the way he lets the atmosphere and natural creepiness of setting scare the viewer. I haven’t seen his newest film (heard it’s on Netflix, I take back my statement above), but the guy just knows how to make a horror movie that appeals to all of my senses. He still likes to throw at least one jump scare in though, a tactic that I find tired and overused. This is where The Orphanage differs itself from the pack. I honestly don’t remember one single jump scare. Sure there were some quick camera movements and figures appearing from a spot where there was once nothing, but those just felt earned. There was no ROARING CRASH OF SOUND accompanied by a lightning quick edit to some deranged murderous face, or better yet a fucking cat that jumps out of a closet. This film was just plain old creepy. It’s also a ghost story. I love host stories. I’ve been telling, reading, and writing them since I was a kid and this ghost story satisfied me completely. I was into the overall premise of the film. There were some holes that I should have bothered me but somehow didn’t given the fact that the movie could exist without filling them. Actually, I’d say the story was the weakest link of the whole film. It certainly pulled me in but I was really hooked by the overall aesthetic feel of the film. I made sure to turn the lights out and crank the volume for this and the film returned my diligence by giving me a great atmosphere for a horror film. The acting was also top notch, especially from Belén Rueda. She’s a natural.

Like many, I had a problem with the ending. I just felt like it was a total cop out to what could have been a seriously disturbing and unique conclusion. Those who have seen the film will remember the basement scene. Credits should have rolled from that point. The movie was over. What came next was just a very easy way to end what was a totally original and uneasy film. I understood the reasoning behind it but I honestly didn’t care for what happened to the characters involved. I didn’t shed a tear. I wanted the disturbing option A.

The ending disappointed me but the film overall couldn’t have been more enjoyable. I loved the creepiness. I loved the acting from Belén Rueda. It was a good scare on a nice, windy, chilly October night. I should do this more often.


Suggested Viewing – The Others, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Tale of Two Sisters, Les Diaboliques (1955 version, fuck that shitty remake)

Film Review : Afflicted (2014)

IMDB Score – 6.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 79%

Directed By – Derek Lee & Clif Prowse
Starring – Derek Lee & Clif Prowse

Two best friends see their trip of a lifetime take a dark turn when one of them is struck by a mysterious affliction. Now, in a foreign land, they race to uncover the source before it consumes him completely.

Winner of the best feature award last year at Fantastic Fest, Afflicted gives us yet another movie where the characters feel the need to document everything for our amusement. They document their meals. They document their parties. They document themselves trying to cock block their friend boning a french girl. This film at least tried to set up reasons why this would be going on. Derek has a serious illness and wants to travel the world before he croaks. Clif is his best friend and amateur filmmaker and will accompany Derek and film fucking everything. I’m actually okay with this premise. It makes sense although if I was Derek I would beat the shit out of Clif for being so goddamn annoying. For the constructs of the film though, I’ll allow it.

Like most found footage films, the first third consists of attempts at building character development by showing our lead characters having a grand old time doing what they originally set out to do. The curveball is thrown and we as the audience are left trying to figure out what is happening along with our dumbfounded camera man. “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOU DEREK?” I share this mans bewilderment but I couldn’t help noticing small details that in hindsight are now glaring clues as to what was happening. I guess the film did a good job in covering up what that was but once the early twist occurs the film just starts to take the cliche train towards Boring Station. The fact that this also won a screenplay award is telling of what kind of competition was in the running. The script basically took a half dozen original ideas from the last couple years in TV and film and posed them as their own. It’s like Prowse and Lee saw Chronicle, *Insert Exorcism Movie Here*, and Dexter and decided to make a film with all three characteristics. The writing and story arc is nothing we haven’t seen before and unfortunately this is why horror films do so poorly at the box office. Originality is lacking but I understand how hard it is to come up with an original horror film when there are so many coming out that have good ideas but horrible production value. It’s hard to get both right.


I will say there is promise behind this film. For a film that cost less than a million dollars to make, the special effects and camera work was actually pretty impressive. There were many scenes after Derek “changed” that were engaging and tense despite being something that has been done time and time again. If anything, the filmmakers have some promise.

Afflicted is a very flawed film that lacks originality in the writing department but the impressive special effects and camera work could mean something bigger for the two filmmakers. I didn’t like the film particularly but there was certainly some promise behind it. I just hope they find actual actors instead of playing the leads themselves because they’re better off staying behind the camera.


Related Films – Chronicle, VHS, The Last Exorcism, Open Grave, Grave Encounters

Quick Hits : Cheap Thrills (2014) & The Illusionist (2010)

Directed By – E.L. Katz
Starring – Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton

Everybody has those conversations with their buddies over a couple beers. “What would you do for X amount of money?” I’m sure that 99% of the things that get brought up would never actually get done. I’m 100% sure that some of the things that happen in this film would never be done, unless your buddies are a bunch of desperate people willing to degrade themselves for a little cash. My moral standards are pretty strong but knowing what it’s like not to have money makes me wonder…what would I do for $25,000? The film centers around Craig and Vince. Craig is an unemployed father and husband who needs almost five grand in a week or else he loses his apartment. Vince is an old friend who basically only exists as an asshole who hasn’t made anything of his life. They run into each other at a bar and end up making friends with a couple who can’t seem to stop spending money. The party heads back to the couples house where unveil their plan to challenge Vince and Craig to dares or tasks in exchange for money. It snowballs from there.

The film boasts a great cast with Pat Healy and David Koechner stealing the show. Ethan Embry, who reminded me he’s still a person, does a serviceable job and Sara Paxton kind of just breezes through this one but her character wasn’t really called upon to do much. The film gets a little gross, a little bloody, and features a pretty nice ending. It’s not something that will knock your socks off. Being the first feature of the director there are pacing issues. The lead up to the “game” takes way too long unfold and there were some character arcs that didn’t seem to go anywhere. It was however a pretty decent way to make your first feature film. I’d recommend it for horror fans.


Directed By – Sylvain Chomet
Starring – Jean-Claude Donda and Eilidh Rankin

No, this is not the one with Edward Norton. This is the film that was nominated by the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. The director happened to make one of my favorite animated films ever “The Triplets of Bellville”. The story follows a magician trying to make money hits the road to Scotland where he meets a young woman who follows him on his journey. I honestly didn’t get sucked into the story on this one. The animation and beautiful score are what made the film enjoyable to me. The various illusions and magic tricks that the magician does were pretty mesmerizing. The night scenes in streetlight backed streets of Scotland were gorgeously done. The score was engaging and just fit the scenery so well. Chomet and his animation team really know how to use colors and music together to create an immerse film. Like “Bellville”, the film doesn’t have much dialogue so the animation has to pick up the slack. It does. It certainly does.

The story just didn’t do it for me. The magical settings painted in the beginning of the film just sort of floated away by the films end. It got really sad and depressing. I understood the theme of the film but that kind of mood switch threw me for a bit of a loop. I wanted to stay in the happy place. Besides that it’s an excellent animated film and proof that Sylvain Chomet and his team are one of the top animation teams in the business. It isn’t just Pixar.


Film Review – The Hitcher (1986)

IMDB Score – 7.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 59%

Directed By – Robert Harmon
Starring – Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn, and John M. Jackson

A young man who escaped the clutches of a murderous hitch-hiker is subsequently stalked, framed for the hitcher’s crimes, and has his life made into hell by the same man he escaped.

Shying away from the theater this week, I’m going to be doing some old fashioned movie watching from home, as I’ve just been in a bad state as it is anyways. It’s funny how one drifts towards the television in times of stress, as if to make realty seem less real by subtracting it with fiction. I won’t get into that, but rather get into a film I’ve been trying to sit down and watch ever since I realized I liked 1980s slasher films. That film is The Hitcher.

I think they made a really bad remake a couple years ago with Sean Bean, who was cast only because he is great at dying. Is that a spoiler? I’m sorry, this film has been out for almost three decades now so you’re going to have to deal with that. The film takes place in the asshole of America, the Midwest, in where a hitchhiker is picked up by Thomas C. Howell, who will now be referred to Ponyboy for the rest of this review. That hitchhiker is played by everybody’s favorite android, Rutger Hauer. Hauer immediately tries to thank Ponyboy for picking him up by trying to snuff him out but is unsuccessful as he accidentally falls out of the car. This sets up the theme of the film; “Is Rutger Hauer a ninja ghost?” The answer is a resounding yes. Somehow, Hauer manages to frame Ponyboy for all his previous and occurring crimes which leaves us watching Ponyboy try to get out of it. He meets Jennifer Jason Leigh along the way and we have a soup of 1980’s trivial pursuit questions to make up this movie.

I actually ended up liking the film. Most of this is because of Rutger Hauer. The man is just a screen menace that only Klaus Kinski can top. You want to scare the shit out of your audience without really doing much? Just stick Rutger Hauer’s face on the screen and let everything else fall into place. The mystery and creepiness he brings to his Hitcher character is worth seeing the movie alone. The camera work was surprisingly good for a 1980s slasher film as the slow pans really helped setting the mood. I never thought Ponyboy was a good actor evidenced by his over the top performance in everything he has ever done including this. His character seems to always choose a place to hide that is not open or is full of people who will die sooner than later, which brings me back to the theme…

Rutger Hauer is a ninja.

He manages to be in every single nook and cranny without anybody ever knowing he is there. He could have worked for MI6 but instead he has chosen to walk the roads in the middle of nowhere and stalk people who are just waiting to die anyway. He gets out of every single situation he is in, manages to wipe out a whole police unit and still manage to make it loo like Ponyboy did it, and also slips body parts into french fries with what I’m only going to assume is the magic of Cthulhu. He’s the real deal.

The film has some pretty great action/thrilling scenes like the gas station getaway, police car shootout, and let’s not forget one of the most gruesome off screen deaths to a likable character ever. Seriously, I can’t believe they were allowed to do that. I was shocked. Overall, it’s a pretty great 80s slasher that is highlighted by the one and only Rutger Hauer. I don’t want french fries at a diner ever again.


Suggested Viewing – Joyride (Just cause), Vacancy, Cellular

Film Review : We Are What We Are (2013)

IMDB Score – 5.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Directed By – Jim Mickle
Starring – Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julie Garner, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, and Michael Parks

The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family.

This is how you do a horror film everybody.

Unlike the storm in the film, Hollywood has been in a serious Horror drought for at least a decade. Sure, American films like “The Conjuring” and even “Cabin in the Woods” have been successes, but with only a film or two a year coming out from the states in the mainstream horror fans have to reach deep to find the films they crave. Luckily for us, Jim Mickle is the next big thing. I’ve read that his film “Stakeland”, which I’ll be watching tonight probably, is vastly superior than the film I just watch and if that is true then it may end up on my favorite horror films list because I loved We are What We are. Mickle has a film out currently in “Cold in July” which I’m going to try to catch before it leaves theaters. Either way, horror has a new stalwart and his name is Jim Mickle.

This film is very tough to describe without giving away too many key plot points so this review may be a bit short. That being said, this movie is on Netflix so you have no excuse not to watch it. Please do. The story revolves around a family of religious practices that are far from your average family. Think Ned Flanders meets Misery. The father, played masterfully by Bill Sage, is a very stoic and serious man who seems to have his daughters scared shitless. Besides Sage, Childers and Garner are fantastic as the two daughters who are stuck trying to figure out what is right and what is good for the family. Michael Parks rounds it out as the town doctor who starts getting wind of what is going on.

The story, which is flawless in most parts with a few instances of slack, is one of the more unique and compelling stories I’ve seen in horror. The film is actually a remake, but the same screenwriter from the original Spanish film reprises his work here. Couple the story with Mickle’s amazing knack for the camera and you have a slow burn film that glows with intensity at just the right moments. The scares are earned. The shock is true. These are the most important elements for horror in my eyes. The whole point is to be scared no? I have a friend who delivered mail for years. After a while he got so used to dogs jumping on the door when he would walk up and scaring the shit out of him that he lost the ability to be frightened. For me, this is most of horror films. I’ve seen the same tactics used over and over again that the whole reason I’m watching the film in the first place is lost. This film does’t do that. It challenges you to pay attention and then when you’re deep in the feel of the movie, Mickle hits you with the scares. It’s a detailed and methodically timed film. It also packs one of the best endings to a film I’ve seen in a long time. I was slack jawed by the end of it.

Do yourself a favor and watch this film. It’s a diamond in a ruff sea of garbage that is the horror genre.


Suggested Viewing – Red State, The Loved Ones, Stoker