Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kidnapped (aka Secuestrados) (2011)

Kidnapped (aka Secuestrados) is a brutal, nihilistic home invasion tale from Spain, directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas. Going in, I didn’t know much about the film and had only heard whisperings about its brutality and shock value. It certainly lived up to what little I had heard about it in regards to its violent atmosphere, but the story left a little to be desired as we’ve seen it all before.

A family consisting of father Jaime (Fernando Cayo), mother Marta (Ana Wagener) and teenage daughter Isa (Manuela Vellés) has just moved into their beautiful new home. Their first night there, three masked intruders burst in and take them all hostage. Jaime is taken by the leader of the group to withdraw cash from ATMs in the nearby city, while Marta and Isa are terrorized by the two remaining goons. The family soon decides to fight back, with dire consequences.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an extremely well-made movie that has oodles of tension, but for one reason or another I’m on the fence with this one. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t love it, I’m just kind of ambivalent towards it. If I had to just use one word to sum up my thoughts on the film, it would be “meh”.

Though the direction, cinematography and acting were all decent, the story is just lacking. It’s the same storyline I’ve seen so many times that I feel like I’ve become desensitized to it. Are horrific acts perpetrated on the victims? Yes. Is it brutal? Yes. Do the victims turn the tables and fight back? Yes. It was just all so familiar that I just zoned out a bit watching this. The only surprise came with the nihilist ending, which may be unsatisfying for some viewers. I, however, enjoyed the ending as it was pretty much the only thing that went against the grain of the standard “home invasion” horror film.

Besides the story that could have used a bit more creativity, sometimes the pacing was off as well. I enjoyed how the film kicked things off right away (after gratefully interrupting an annoying family squabble), but when the villain takes the father out to withdraw money from ATMs (really? all they wanted was money?) the action stagnates a bit. I heard a rumor that the film was filmed in just 12 shots. However, I cannot confirm or deny this since I learned of it after watching the film. This would explain some of the scenes that seem to drag on and on, as well as some very long shots that also draw out the pacing.

However, when the action does come on screen, it definitely delivers. Which ultimately led to another problem with the film…the pacing and tone are never consistent and while this jarring difference between quiet, intimate moments and loud, action sequences kept drawing me back into the film, it never felt like it quite clicked. Most of the time it felt like two different films – one is a drama about a dysfunctional family and the other is a hyperviolent look at a home invasion gone wrong. I guess this goes back to the pacing issues, but, again, the film didn’t seem to flow correctly.

Additionally, the film keeps getting more and more violent as it progresses, which may ultimately please some horror fans on just how brutal the action gets. The double-whammy of the ending actually made me mutter “whoa”, but I don’t think it made up for the film’s other issues. Still, I could go both ways on the film. I certainly don’t loathe it, but I probably won’t watch it again and after a few months I’ll probably forget I saw it. Again, meh.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Taking its inspiration from backwoods horror films where kids go into the woods, kids get killed by insane/cannibalistic/territorial and/or just plain vengeful hicks, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a horror comedy that’s a rip-roaring good time! To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much with this spoof, but was pleasantly surprised by just how laugh-out-loud funny it was! And it wasn’t just me…the whole room kept erupting into laughter right along with me!

The film is about West Virginian hillbillies Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) who head to their vacation home, a dilapidated cabin deep in the woods. Heading to the same area is a group of college co-eds for a weekend of partying. However, things go askew for both groups after a series of accidents and miscommunications lead the kids to mistake Tucker and Dale for a pair of backwoods killers.

This was such a raucous comedy, I really can’t believe it hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet! I’m not usually one for dumbed-down spoofs, but this one had a certain charm, originality and tons of hilarious moments. Plus, it wasn’t dumbed-down at all, but actually funny and smart.

Writers Morgan Jurgenson and Eli Craig (who also directed) certainly did a fine job of writing a hilarious script that keeps its tongue firmly in cheek without pandering to the audience. One of my favorite scenes involved Tucker taking a chainsaw to an old log, only to hit an angry hornet’s nest inside. As he flails around with his chainsaw (looking very much like Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre), he spooks the college kids.

I don’t think the film could have been as great without the wonderful performances from Alan Tudyk (of Firefly fame) and Tyler Labine (from the awesome but short-lived Reaper series). They were absolutely hysterical as the clueless but well-meaning rednecks. The rest of the cast did a fine job as well, but Tudyk and Labine really stood out! Their timing and how they played off one another was just comedic perfection!

Besides the great story and acting, I was surprised at how bloody the overall film is – we get gruesome impalements, a body put through the wood-chipper, brains splattered over a windshield and more! The kills are so over-the-top they can become a little ridiculous, but again, the tone of the film saves this from ever becoming an issue.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a delightful gem of a movie which unfortunately hasn’t been released yet. This is really a pity, because this is one of the most fun films I’ve seen all year! If you get a chance to see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, definitely do it as any self-respecting horror fan will no doubt have a grand ol’ time with this movie!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Boogeyman (2010)

The Boogeyman is an Irish short film adaptation of Stephen King’s tale. Directed by Gerard Lough, the film opens with bereaved father Andrew (Simon Fogarty) explaining his story to a psychiatrist and saying how he is responsible for his three children’s deaths at the hands of “the boogeyman”. As Andrew recounts his tale, we see what unfolded through flashbacks.

To be honest, I haven’t read King’s story, so I can’t account for how faithful Lough’s adaptation is. Unfortunately, I found this to be a fairly dull short that lacks action, likable characters and tension.

The first problem was with the character of Andrew. Though King’s characters are usually rough around the edges, they are ultimately likable in that “everyman” way. However, Andrew comes off as inherently unlikable, complaining about his wife and expressing how he never really wanted kids. This is quite a shaky way to start a story, especially since it takes a while for Andrew to (sort-of) redeem himself. By the time he actually does express some love for his family, it was already too late and I was already anti-Andrew and couldn’t care less what happened to him.

I also thought it odd he wasn’t suspected more by the police in his children’s deaths. Perhaps if more people suspected him it would have upped the ante and made him a more sympathetic character, but by his own admission he is only telling the story to the psychiatrist to get it off his chest. I think the intention of the filmmaker was to create tension in the viewer, making them wonder if Andrew had really killed his children instead of the boogeyman. However, this intention fell flat and I really never felt the tension or urgency to find out who the true murderer was.

The story unfolded at a languid pace as well, and I just didn’t feel any sort of suspense while watching it. It would have helped if more had been shown of the flashbacks, but instead the story focused more on showing Andrew talking to the psychiatrist. I did read that the production had issues finding child actors for the roles due to the subject matter, but I think the story could have been shot around those problems.

As for the direction, it was okay…nothing too special except for a lot of blue and grey muted colors on display. The direction and editing were fairly plain, and since the story was a bit slow it could have used a little more punch.

Another problem was the silly boogeyman costume design, which was anything but scary. Instead, it just looked like a dude wearing a cheap, plastic Halloween mask. I wish the boogeyman character had been shown less, because a shadow on a wall or eyes peering from a closet would have been much more effective and creepy rather than seeing that ridiculous costume.

The Boogeyman is a slow-paced short that unfortunately couldn’t keep my attention. It lacks tension, likable characters and any sort of scares.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Desdemona 6 (2011)

Rev your engines, kiddos, because this short film from director Johnny Priest will blow your lid off. I’m talking about the low-budget Desdemona 6, which takes its inspiration from 70s hot-rod flicks while throwing in some terrifying twists that land it squarely in horror territory. While the film’s gritty grindhouse look gives the film a dirty, scratched up look, it’s definitely the story of the mysterious driver and his pursuit of the couple that kept my eyes glued to the screen for its short 10 minute run-time.

The film is about a couple, Travis (Jason Mac) and Chrissie (Katie Bearden), on the road one night. Travis is driving Chrissie to work in his “baby”, a sleek hot-rod, when they encounter a menacing muscle car that taunts the hot-headed Travis into a drag race. After the young couple becomes stranded on a dark country road six miles outside the town of Desdemona, they find themselves in the fight of their lives while being relentlessly pursued by the demonic car and its mysterious driver (Bruce Rowland).

At different points in the film I was reminded of Christine, Jeepers Creepers and Death Proof, Tarantino’s homage to all grindhouse-era hot-rod flicks. However, the film never felt derivative and continued to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. It featured several surprises that made me jump in my seat and the direction by Johnny Priest was flawless.

I’ve already mentioned how Priest dirtied up the film stock to make it look grindhouse authentic, but he also managed to set the entire film at night. You might think nothing of this, but filmmakers on a limited budget usually don’t have the best track record with night shoots, as without the proper equipment most of the action is lost to the dark. I’ve seen plenty of low-budget films that were ruined just because you couldn’t SEE anything happening on screen if it was set at night. However, Priest overcame this obstacle and the entire short is crystal clear, with the dark night giving it just the right amount of menace without obscuring any of the real action.

The special FX were also very impressive, especially considering the film’s small budget. There is one startling scene (I’m saying as little as I can so I don’t give anything away) that comes out of nowhere and definitely gave me quite a start! It looks pretty dang perfect on-screen, too. And though the “mysterious driver” is (wisely) kept in the shadows, when we do see his scarred up face it is downright chilling! Plus, the driver’s car has quite a personality of its own and becomes like another character in the film.

Speaking of characters, I was also impressed by the performances in the film. Katie Bearden (Chrissie) and Jason Mac (Travis) easily convinced me they were a bickering couple and Bruce Rowland gave a menacing performance as the driver. And, of course, the beautiful hot-rods had personalities all their own, which you don’t need to be a gearhead to appreciate!

I never know what to expect when sitting down to watch an independent film, but I was absolutely stunned at how much fun I had watching Desdemona 6! Desdemona 6 is an impressive short that lovingly replicates the grindhouse feel while jolting the viewer with a terrifying ride down a highway to hell. For the thrill ride of your life, hop into Desdemona 6!

For more information, including upcoming screenings, check out the official site and Facebook page!
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