Posts Tagged ‘found footage’

Playing Russian Roulette with his pecker is one of his new favourite games

Year Released : 2017

Director : Bradley Stryker

Cast : Alex Turshen, Keenan Henson, Caitlin Stryker, Bradley Stryker and Krista Donargo

It is not often that I review a film that has an average rating of less than 3/10 on IMDB, but here we are. I got randomly sent the trailer for this feature and thought it looks relatively interesting, but the 2.9/10 rating has left me with strong doubts that this will prove to be enjoyable.

Of course having a low rating on IMDB means precisely nothing until you’ve seen it. I’ve seen a lot of films with low ratings on there and enjoyed them, infact the first film I ever reviewed for this site was “Exit Humanity”, which had a very average 5.2/10 at the time, and I loved it. Then again, there have been times where I have said that the low rating is still too high for some films.

I guess we’ll just have to see.

Plot

Abby (Turshen) is reluctant to go on holiday until she catches her boyfriend having sex with another woman. She decides to travel to Thailand after all, and within hours she has her bag stolen, but it is returned by Ben (Henson) and Jewel (C Stryker), tourists making a documentary about backpackers. She soon receives a photo of her sister Penny’s (Donargo) feet.

A few days pass before Abby goes to have a video chat with Penny, but she is horrified when she sees her being held hostage by a man in a clown mask, but Ben tries to convince her that it is part of a known prank in Asia in which someone wants someone close to them to start appreciating life, or the right priorities in life.

As time goes on Abby starts to believe that it isn’t actually a prank and convinces Ben and Jewel to go with her to find Penny, but soon afterwards they receive a package with a video of Penny claiming to be fine, even though she is on the verge of tears. Ben admits to his camera that he doesn’t have the heart to tell Abby that the package it arrived in also contained some severed fingers.

How long can Penny survive?

So is it worth a 2.9/10?

Whilst I was watching this I decided to have a look at some of the comments from those that have watched the film already, and one thing that came to mind straight away is something that I have commented on in the past, in other words, people who are involved in the film, or related to them, have given it a good score, and that’s all that is proping it up at 2.9.

The reason I am so sceptical is because, putting it nicely, “Land of Smiles” is a boring, disjointed, piece of shit. Let’s start with the most confusing aspect of the film and that is that it can’t seem to make its mind up with whether it is a found footage movie or not. There are some scenes that are presented in that fashion, whereas others aren’t, I refuse to believe this nonsense from the throw-away line of a guy making a documentary about backpackers so his camera is ALWAYS on.

This lack of a clear structure is made even less convincing by the eyebrow-raising cringy acting from all concerned. For example, when Abby has her bag stolen, she is just stood there with a gormless look on her face whilst they remove the bag very slowly and casually off of their back, she doesn’t do anything to stop it and then they just canter off without Abby even so much as putting up a half-hearted chase. If you want me to care about your character and her plight then at least make it look like she cares herself.

I would normally suggest that the cast just aren’t capable of acting, but Alex Turshen was in another film that I reviewed a few months ago, Boy Meets Girl, and she was decent then, so I don’t get it. It is almost like she just decided “fuck it” just before filming started.

I think that is arguably the biggest reason why this fails as a compelling story, the characters just aren’t that interesting, or even well written. There is very little that actually compels you to get behind any of them, nor even feel sorry for Penny as she is getting tortured, and even then I’m being VERY generous with that. All you’ve seen of Penny for the majority of the film is, other than her sat there whilst the clown makes threats, is that she didn’t like Abby’s boyfriend and acted like a spoilt child when Abby declined to go on holiday with her. Even the Saw franchise built up it’s torture victims better than this, well……some of them anyway.

For me the biggest insult is that whilst it uses the beautiful location of Thailand to make it look very decent for a low budget film, it seems to use it purely to distract you from the poor dialogue on screen. There is one scene in particular that seemed to have the camera set up so far from what was happening so that you could admire the hilly island in the background of the shot, rather than focusing on the characters having a yoga session and an uninteresting conversation.

Other than the use of the location, I can’t think of a single positive about “Land of Smiles”.

Summary

Poor acting, awful dialogue, an uninteresting story and boring characters, I can definitely see why this is rated as 2.9/10 on IMDB at the time of writing. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is the worst film I’ve seen for this site, nor would it break into a bottom five position, but there doesn’t change it from being awful.

If you’re looking for an example of good film-making with an exotic location, don’t choose this. Other than the beautiful location of Thailand, there is precisely nothing interesting in this movie at all and it is a waste of ninety or so minutes of you time.

Just avoid.

There’s forty-five million pounds of chicken shit dumped into the bay each year!

Director : Barry Levinsonbay_ver2-2012-movie-poster

Year Released : 2012

Starring : Will Rogers, Kristen Connolly, Kether Donohue, Frank Deal, Stephen Kunken, Christopher Denham and Nansi Aluka

I’ve been debating for the last 48 hours whether to actually review this film as I saw that it had a relatively high number of votes on IMDB (more than 20,000) compared to most movies that I review on this site, but then I realised that it might be a while before I get a chance to review another and I don’t want to get into the habit of reviewing one and then taking several weeks off again, so here is it.

I had heard of the film in passing previously but had never actually tried to watch “The Bay” and never even watched a trailer, but then I saw it advertised on Netflix after I had finished reviewing “Land Mine Goes Click” and so I decided to go with it. Little did I realise that it was a found footage film, so I was already anticipating what I was about to watch and not in a good way, but you never know, I had been surprised in the past.

Plot

Donna Thompson (Donohue) is invited to talk about an incident several years prior at Chesapeake Bay in which most of the town dies sudden deaths. She recalls how she was an apprentice news reporter and she believed at the time that she was simply reporting a minor medical issues. It’s peak season at the bay but a lot of people are starting to go into hospital with various boils and infected wounds. Dr Abrams (Kunken) quickly realises that this might be something considerable more drastic when he realises that it is a parasite of some variety that is eating the body from the out and in simultaneous.

Abrams struggles to get an answer out of the government and they eventually start ignoring him as they realise that the town needs to be quarantined. Soon anyone who comes into contact with the water starts falling ill, coming out in boils and mysteriously their tongues eaten.

Can they find an answer in time to save anyone?

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So was it worth while or the same as most other found footage films?

I will give “The Bay” praise in that is is different to most other found footage films that I have seen as it doesn’t go with any of the usual stereotypes of the genre. There are no jump-scares, no more . It is also strange to have a narrator most of the way through the film, but this actually causes the main issue that I have with the film…..it nullifies any attachment that you have to the characters.

When Donna is introducing several characters as they appear on screen, she says that they die by the end of that night, meaning that you are automatically disconnected emotionally from them as you know that they are going to “snuff it” within the next hour and a bit. For example, one of the better and more interesting characters to follow is Dr Abrams, but you know from the first minute you see him that he going to die because we’re told it as soon as he appears. Why should I truly care about a character you’ve just told me is going to die.

This isn’t based on an historical event, such as “Titanic” and any set in World War 2, films where you expect most of the characters you see to die, this is a film where, whilst death is likely, it’s not a certainty, and it ruins it somewhat.

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The pacing really doesn’t help in this sense and it seems all over the place. There is also one scene in which a character is perfectly fine before he notices he is infected…..and then he dies within 20 seconds. It is either an amazing coincidence that he died just slightly after noticing this, but it feels more like an excuse just to kill off a character as one hadn’t died in a while.

I’m caught in two minds about this because I wasn’t actually bored by “The Bay” at any point, but the problem is that everything feels completely inconsequential. It is unlike any other “found footage” film I’ve seen, which is good in some respects, but in others it just doesn’t work. If it wasn’t for make up and prosthetic applied to create the illusion of flesh being eaten, you’d be forgiven for not really knowing what everyone was getting worried about and this isn’t helped by the lack of a major human antagonist. At least in normal “found footage” films there is something even remotely tangible for you to get terrified (or at least form a vague attempt to be terrified about).

I think that the best way to describe it would be “inconsequential” and in a year or so I will have forgotten that I spent just over 80 minutes watching this, with only the occasional browse through the “All Reviews” list reminding me about it.

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Summary

Whilst it does follow the same formula of most other found footage films, which is something to be commended, it is certainly not as engaging as other movies within the genre and I found it really hard to care about what was happening.

I’m not saying that “The Bay” is a bad film by any stretch, but it’s not good either.

If I could use one word to describe it then it would definitely be “meh”.

 

Year Released : 2015Untitled
Director : Abe Rosenberg
Cast : Anna Cetti, Michel Chauvet, Mario Escalante and Juan Luis Tovar

So I’m now well and truly settled back into life at home following my holiday to Norway. I’ve spent most of my time since I returned at work, watching films at the cinema or working on a video for my Youtube channel of the aforementioned holiday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik6AAcpAN_0 for those that are interested), but then I decided that it was time to review a film.

I was browsing for something to review and I came across this, a 2015 horror about a group of paranormal investigators that go into an abandoned mental hospital to see if the rumours of ghosts are true. If that sounds familiar to you then there is a very good reason for that…..it’s not an original idea. It’s far from an original idea.

In the recent past there have been at least three films that I know of that follow the exact same plot (Grave Encounters and it’s sequel, as well as Hollows Grove). This film screams complete unoriginality before I’ve even started watching it and my expectations could not be lower if I tried.

Plot

I could be really lazy here and just put “See plot from Grave Encounters” but I figure I should actually put some minor effort in here, even if the writer didn’t.

Isa (Cetti), Diego (Chauvet), Mateo (Escalante) and Charly (Tovar) are friends that produce a show in which they go into abandoned buildings that are reported to be filled with paranormal activity. Their latest assignment sees them enter an abandoned mental health hospital, a building that was thriving just a few years earlier, before everyone just left for seemingly no reason.

The group are initially disappointed as none of their efforts are rewarded, that is until one of the devices designed to detect ghosts. They finally make content with a presence and whilst it happily admits to being evil, it almost concedes that it is not concerned with the group being in the building, but that’s not enough for Diego. Diego continues to pester the spirits and decides to go lower into the asylum whilst the others are waiting to go home.

The group goes back into the asylum to find Diego, but the ghosts have now decided that they are not going to let them leave.

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So, low expectations justified?

In some ways yes, and in others no.

Let’s start with the very basic thing and that is that the film reveals in the first three minutes that all of the characters die. Yep, all major tension has been taken out of the film within the first 180 seconds of footage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not uncommon for all characters to die by the end of found footage style films, for example, by the end of the Grave Encounters films, only one character that enters the hospital survives, but the difference is that you aren’t told that none of the characters die within the first few moments.

For me this ruined any genuine sense of fear within the film as you know it’s coming, you’re just not entirely sure when, and in many ways I was genuinely surprised that it takes until the final 10 minutes of the 75 minute run time to actually see the spirits start to get violent, especially after Diego effectively pokes them with a stick.

The film has a very slow build, very slow indeed. The film may only be 75 minutes long but he feels considerably longer due to it’s slow build. In some places the build works very well, but the problem with a build is that if there isn’t really a lot happening on the screen, you really need to develop the characters and none of them really change in the slightest from when they walk in until they’re all killed off. With only four characters, you really can’t hold on for long.

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In terms of development, the closest thing they get is Diego becoming increasingly obsessed by finding the ghosts. They openly admit to not being bothered by the presence of the four main characters, and it takes Diego not leaving them alone for something to happen, and there is very little about the film that hints at even a vague reason why you should care about the characters.

That being said, there are actually some aspects of the film that I very much enjoyed, the first of which is that all of the effects are practical. I didn’t notice a single special effect in the entire film and this was so refreshing. The actual physical presence of the ghosts on screen only lasts for maybe ten seconds in the entire film, if that, and this adds a level of tension as you’re constantly expecting something to happen, and yet the fact nothing does actually seems to add something somehow.

There is one scene in particular near the end of the film that is insanely tense. The characters throughout the film are able to detect the presence of the ghosts by using a device that beeps when there is paranormal activity (hence why Diego is able to tell that the ghosts mean him no harm at first), and after running from one ghost, the characters are hiding in a pitch black cupboard and only have the light from the device to keep them company.

Tension grows naturally as you’re just sat staring at this five lights very gradually increase in brightness over the space of about a minute. It is the standout scene because it is so basic in nature, you can see literally nothing other than the slowly increasing brightness of the light and all you can hear is the panicked whimpers of the surviving characters, it is an excellent scene.

Ultimately it takes more than just one or two great standout scenes to make the film anything more than below-average and whilst it’s not as bad as I was predicted, and I did feel genuinely tense at times, it was just a bit boring for the majority of the film.

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Summary

I didn’t hate it as much as I anticipated that I would, but it still wasn’t a good film.

It tries hard on what I can imagine was an exceptionally limited budget and does relatively well for what is has to work with, but ultimately there just isn’t enough there to keep you interesting for more than 15 minutes, in other words 1/5 of the film’s run time.

Out of the found footage style films I’ve seen in recent years, it’s one of the better, but that’s not saying a lot.

He looks like a gay skeletor!10959955_10152700010107473_3193791095247802319_o

Year Released : 2015
Director : AJ Wedding
Cast : Nathan Reid, Gabriel Tigerman, Luis Jose Lopez, Dante Spencer and Jen Yeager

How often do you hear about an independent film where a sequel has already been confirmed before the first is even released? I had no intention of watching The Jokesters before I read that fact because it’s a sign of overwhelming confidence and arrogance. Whilst I can understand mainstream films confirming that they’ll be part of a series before the first is even released, such as films based on books (Hunger Games, Twilight, etc) or the Marvel Universe, an independent film doing it is very rare and I had to see if the over-confidence was justified.

It is also exceptionally overconfident when you take into account that this is a found-footage/video camera style film and they have a history of being awful, with the odd exception here and there.

To put that into some sort of context, I recently started working at a cinema and on Saturday night, following watching showings of Ant Man and Andre Rieu’s Maastricht concert, I went to watch a film from the found-footage genre that I can’t name at the moment due to contractual reasons (I’ll be name it in my end of year review of mainstream films). Beforehand I spoke to several friends that were on shift at the time and said that the genre was so predictable that I could say five things that were guaranteed to happen…..and all five happened.

I could count the amount of truly decent found footage style films on one hand and still have fingers to spare….and two of the ones that were used would be taken up by the first two REC films.

Anyway, I digress…….

Plot

Nick (Reid), Andrew (Tigerman), Chris (Lopez) and Ethan (Spencer) are creators of the overwhelming popular “Prank Masters”, a Youtube channel that sees them play pranks on each other and the members of the public, such as making one it’s members believe that he has been buried alive. The popularity of the channel continues to grow and grow and the guys meet fans each day.

After a successful latest series, Chris, Andrew and Nick decide to pull the “Cabin in the Woods” prank on Ethan following his wedding. The prank would basically be to do a home-invasion on Ethan and his wife and they picture it as the perfect way to end the series. Ethan’s wedding goes relatively well, that despite a supposedly horrendous speech from Nick (which isn’t shown). Ethan and his new wife (Yeager) go away for their honeymoon, completely unaware of the prank that awaits them.

After a road trip in which they prank each other and some girls at a convenience store, they arrive at the Cabin in which Ethan and his wife are staying. The pranks work before Ethan pulls a shotgun out and forces the group to reveal themselves. Ethan is far from impressed and it sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to tragedy.

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So was it worth an announced sequel before this film was even released?

The short answer is a resounding no. Whilst Jokesters isn’t an awful or boring film, it is not fun, scary or particularly engaging either.

Let’s start with the positives and I have to open with something that I love to see in a film, especially films of this nature, the characters are grown and developed so well. In a relatively short run time of barely over 70 minutes, you learn a lot about the four main characters and considerably more than you do in a lot of mainstream films that are more than double the run time.

I felt a genuine connection with the four characters and there was an undeniable bond between them, and this is a great testament to what is a largely enjoyable screenplay. The pranks that they perform, such as letting the girls that they meet in a store do the intro, only to steal their bikini tops and drive off, are actually quite amusing and whilst it’s not something that I would personally watch on Youtube, I could imagine that channel would become quite popular.

The screenplay allows for great character development and relationship building. I watch quite a few Youtube channels on a regular basis, such as Markiplier, JackSepticEye, JacksFilms, Matthias, Steve Kardynal and Chris Stuckmann, and in many ways you gain an affinity with these people. When you see them work with each other in videos, you feel a sense of joy because you’re watching true friendships with common interests, and the film captures that so well. You like these guys and that helps you gloss over that not a lot really happens until they get to the cabin.

Arguably the biggest surprise for me in the film is that because it doesn’t really fit into the horror genre, more on that in the negative section, it doesn’t have a lot of the stigma and predictability of most found-footage films. The presentation feels free and flowing, and actually feels like a genuine piece of found footage, rather than simply something that thinks it can pass as found footage simply because it has a “Property of the xxxx Police Department” screen at the beginning of the film.

However, that’s really where the positivity ends and my biggest gripe is that the film doesn’t really fall into any genre. It advertises itself as a comedy horror, but it’s not really either. It’s not doing anything that comedies would do, other than the aforementioned pranks, and there definitely aren’t any scares or horror, at least not until the final few minutes of the film anyway. I’ve put it into the comedy horror category on the basis that that’s what it claims to be, that despite no evidence to back it up.

Whilst I praised the screenplay and character development earlier, the run time of barely over 70 minutes (from the start of the film to the start of the credits) is dominated by character development, which is fine until you realise that the ending feels exceptionally rushed. I’m not going to spoil the ending but it feels so incredibly disconnected from what has happened in the previous 65 or so minutes that it’s almost as if they realised that they were running out of time and had five minutes to do what they were going to do.

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I don’t blame the writer of the screenplay for this, I blame the director. If you are going to have such a short run time, at least make the ending seem realistic and not seemingly out of the blue. I can’t tell you why it feels so out of the blue without spoiling the ending and I really don’t want to have to do that, but believe me when I say that if you do watch this film, you’ll be looking back at the rest of the film and look confused as to where it came from.

I’m not sure how I feel about various parts of the wedding ceremony, such as Nick’s supposedly horrendous speech, being cut out as I think that this would have made for a far, far better and more interesting build up to the ending. The speech left a level of acrimony between Nick and Ethan, but you never truly engage with that level of antagonism because they never show the speech.

Whilst in some films it is better to leave certain aspects to the imagination, there really wasn’t any need to do it here and it could have even helped you understand the ending even more.

And finally, other than the ending there was one thing that left me confused and that was the title. Not this isn’t something that I comment on regularly but the title of “The Jokesters” is unusual because it’s not mentioned once during the film, as opposed to at least 40 mutterings of the channel’s name of “Prank Masters”. Although it’s only a minor thing and not that important, it’s a little strange that they didn’t use that as the name.

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Summary

This is the first film since I introduced the new ranking system that I can’t give a positive rating to. Whilst it’s not awful, there’s not really a story going on and it takes until the final fifteen minutes for any semblance of a worthwhile plot to emerge, and by then it’s too late.

Jokesters spends too long establishing the characters and there is a good chance that by the time something starts happening, the majority of people will have turned off by then.

I wouldn’t say that it’s best to avoid the film all together if you come across it, but be prepared to sit there for more than an hour of the 72 minute run time (from the opening to the time the end credits start) without anything really happening.

Year Released : 2015Area_51_Film_Poster
Director : Oren Peli
Cast : Reid Warner, Darrin Bragg, Ben Rovner and Jelena Nik

Much like zombie films, I found myself reviewing far too many found footage films recently and this will be the last one I review for a whilst as I often find myself saying similar things, and unfortunately it’s going to be the case with Area 51.

Now, I was actually quite intrigued by the premise of someone trying to break into Area 51. I personally do believe in life elsewhere in the universe as I find it exceptionally unlikely that Earth is the only planet that has life, even if it’s only bacteria elsewhere. It’s through this belief that I am quite a big fan of the science fiction genre, but the reason I bring this up is because Area 51 is alleged to be heavily involved in working on alien life, such as the Roswell incident, so I found it interesting to see how someone would portray this in film.

However, despite being intrigued and somewhat excited by the film, it was disappointingly predictable and you know what’s going to happen long before it actually happens. This ruins it for me.

For a change I am writing this introduction after I have actually watched the film, 24 hours afterwards to be precise (and I’m writing this on Monday evening), as I wanted to spend some time thinking it over and trying to think of any positives I could give to the film. As you can probably tell already, the positives are few and far between and I feel that the average rating of 4.1/10 on IMDB at the time of writing is too high. Infact, I’d struggle to give it anything more than a 3.

Plot

After disappearing at a party, Reid (Warner – yes, they did all use their real names for their character names) is found by his friend Darrin (Bragg) and Ben (Rovner), but he has completely changed. He has become obsessed by UFOs and aliens and comes up with a plan to break into Area 51 to find proof that aliens exist. He talks Darrin and Ben into taking a trip to Nevada with him and there they meet up with Jelena (yep, you’ve guessed it, Nik), someone who has inside knowledge.

The group proceeds to then follow a suspected employee of Area 51 to his home, eventually breaking in, stealing his ID and a bottle of cologne, gaining his finger print in the process. Ben suddenly grows exceptionally nervous as he wasn’t expecting Reid to take things as far as he was, as well as breaking the law in numerous ways. Despite this, Reid and Darrin convince him to drive them to the border of where Area 51 supposedly is.

When they arrive, Reid, Darrin and Jelena start their journey to break into the complex, avoiding helicopters, land mines and random patrols on their way in. They do eventually make it into the complex and find their proof of alien life, but whereas getting in was difficult enough, getting out would be nigh on impossible, especially after they accidentally release something.

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So, a good addition to the found footage genre or another entry that shows the genre should die.

As I mentioned in other reviews, when they’re done right, found footage style films can be excellent. [REC], Cloverfield, VHS and As Above, So Below, are examples of the genre being done right, but Area 51 falls someway short of being included in the good category.

It suffers with the same old problems of the genre, in other words, it’s predictable and defies the logic of something running for their life but still filming and turning around, focusing the camera on what’s chasing them and then running again. This wouldn’t happen in real life. If I was getting chased by something that is probably going to kill me if it catches me, I am not going to stop and film what’s chasing me. It just doesn’t happen.

It’s certainly not the only problem with this film and there are two main ones that I think take a larger spotlight.

The first main problem with Area 51 is that right at the beginning of the film, it effectively tells you what is going to happen. If you’ve watched the excellent “District 9” then you will remember that at the beginning of the film a documentary takes place where characters recall what Wikus was like and then how they all reacted to what happened to him, so at point you knew what was going to happen but you were never entirely sure. Area 51 tries to do a very similar thing in which it has an interview set up at first with various people and they all tell you that the three characters just disappeared.

This sets out as the film effectively spoiling itself in the first few minutes as you knew that the characters had no chance, and even when one of them escapes late on, you know that something is going to happen as the film has already told you that that character never returned and completely disappeared. The last thing I want in a film is for it to tell me what happens in the end.

When it’s done with subtlety it’s not too bad if the film spoils itself. For example, I watched Unfriended at the cinema recently and I quite liked it, and what you don’t realise until you read about the film afterwards is that within the first five seconds of being on the screen, each character that eventually dies actually shows you how they end up dying, and that’s pretty cool and how it should be done. It shouldn’t be made blatantly obvious and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised. That was subtle, Area 51’s was not as you knew all of the way through the film that the characters weren’t getting out.

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The second issue that I have with the film is that it is actually built quite well. It’s a slow build that is paced quite well….but then it keeps building…..and building…..and building….and when they do finally get into the facility, the majority of the film is already gone. They go from a reasonable build to not leaving themselves a lot of time to actually get what happens in the facility to an exciting level.

This leads to a less than exciting ending which is done at such a rushed pace that you are left asking what is actually going on, and no film should do that.

Another trend that I’ve noticed with similar films is that to add a sense of realism to the film, the writers are giving the characters the same first name as the actor or actress playing them. There is another film coming out later in the year called The Gallows (which has one of the most basic trailers I’ve ever seen in my life) and all of the characters share their first name with the actor or actress.

Whilst I am sure that this is done with a genuine attempt to connect to the characters, I find it a bit pathetic that you’re having to do that to try and get a connection. Connections with characters shouldn’t be with things like this, they should be natural and organic. Trying to shove something down my throat is not the way to get me connected to the characters and in this sense it fails miserably. It certainly doesn’t help when none of the characters, other than Ben (and even then that’s at a push) develop or change throughout the film. They all pretty much finish how they started out and don’t seem to learn anything.

The ONLY positive that I can give the film is that it at least has the decency to try and do something different from most other found footage style films. By that I mean that it’s a found footage film that isn’t in the horror genre. There are very few horror elements to it and that makes a refreshing change from the usual genre that you find this style film in. But other than that, I can’t think of anything noteworthily (if that’s even a word) good about the film.

For me it is one that focuses too much on style and not substance, but even the style isn’t particularly well done, and what worries me even more is that I highly doubt that Area 51 is left so relatively unprotected at night. The characters get to the door so incredibly easily that it makes you question the realism of a film. I’ve never been to Area 51 and I have no intention of going, not that I’d be allowed anything, but I can’t imagine for a second that the only security measures that they have are a few people sat in jeeps and a helicopter. There’s no fencing of any variety, no guard towers, nothing. I appreciate that they’d want to keep a certain level of security, but to suggest that they have very little security is quite frankly laughable.

Even when they get into the facility, there is minimal security around. There are only a few employees here and there, there is seemingly no camera system and the characters are able to wander freely around the complex, rarely coming up against anything that would stop them progression. Even when they eventually find what they’re looking for, there’s nothing to stop them getting in that room, not even enhanced security procedures, and again, I highly doubt that Area 51 would be so insecure.

Again, I am making that assumption and I could be completely wrong. For all I know there could be precisely fuck all security at Area 51, but the only way to find out would be to risk spending the rest of my life in a prison cell somewhere. As much fun as I’m sure that would be, I think I’ll pass.

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Summary

Whilst it tries a slightly different approach in the found footage genre by making something that isn’t a horror film, it ultimately fails to make you enjoy the film. It has a decent enough build, but the build goes on for far, far too long and by the end it tries to fit too much into a short about of time, and everything after they enter the building feels force, rather than natural.

There are very few positives about Area 51 and it is a poor attempt at film-making. Then again, this is the same director that started the horrible Paranormal Activity franchise, so I’m not sure what I was expecting.

Avoid.

Year Released : 2015MV5BMzg0MTE3NDc4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgxODMyNTE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_
Director : James Moran
Cast : Chris Marquette, Alexandra Breckenridge and Jake McDorman

A few days ago I reviewed the film “Hunting Venus” and noted that with less than 200 votes on IMDB, it had been the most obscure film that I had probably written about….skip forward a few days and I’m now reviewing one with just 114 votes, although to be fair this one has only been out for a few days.

Even though I don’t play computer games that often these days, when I was younger I used to play them on a regular basis and there were very few games that terrified me. One game that did that sticks in my mind was Forbidden Siren, a game that made me lose 2 pounds in one night from sweating alone, but other than that was a largely uncommon thing for me to find a computer game generally terrifying. I suppose it’s one of the things about watching horror films since I was a child, I’ve become desensitised to being scared. Then I played Slenderman.

Slenderman was created several years ago on an interview forum and this spawned one of the scariest games ever created. It was genuinely terrifying and fear inducing games that I had ever seen. I was equally as frightened and fascinated by the subject and I was excited when I saw this film appear on the site where I usually go to view films, although I seriously hoped it was better than the other Slenderman film, which I can’t bring myself to review because it’s that terrible. Now, I write this part of the review before I start reviewing, so I could easily have egg on my face and this could be equally as terrible, but we’ll see. Either way, I would recommend playing the Slenderman games. To play the original (and best), go here (after you’ve read my review of course) – http://slendergame.com/download.php

Plot

Whilst filming for a documentary, Milo (Marquette) finds a box full of old VHS style types and his boss, Sara (Breckenridge) encourages him to watch them to discover if there is anything worth reporting on. Milo agrees and starts watching the tapes and it is of a family being terrorised by a man with no face, with the claims that the man can’t be seen without the aid of a camera. The family in the tapes eventually break down mentally and it unknown what happened to them.

Soon thereafter Milo starts having strange experiences, such as the lights suddenly going out in his home, his dog becoming fixated on seemingly nothing and his cameras not functioning properly. He gets the feeling that he is being stalked by the man in the videos and this is confirmed when one day he sees a man hiding in his yard. Milo approaches the man and within a split second the man jumps from the trees to in the middle of the yard, a distance of around 20 metres. Terrified, Milo runs to Sarah and her boyfriend Charlie (McDorman) for help. They refuse.

When Milo returns home, he finds that Charlie is waiting for him and has been watching some of Milo’s footage. It turns out that Milo has been stalking Sara since the two met at a party several months earlier and the fight is only stopped when Milo convinces Charlie to look through the camera. As he pans around the room, he spots the man with no face standing in the doorway to the closet and he suddenly bursts at them. Charlie and Sara also find themselves being stalked now and their only hope is to find the family from the original film and ask what happened.

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Better than the other Slenderman film?

Yes, most definitely. You know, I hope the man that came up with the original Slenderman idea actually copyrighted it. There has been a lot of media about the fictional character and he could have made a lot of money out of it. Anyway, I digress. Yes, it is far better, and more engaging that the other Slenderman film, without actually being that good itself.

Let’s start with the obvious and that this is a blatant rip off of two other films, the first of which is The Ring. It effectively steals The Ring’s plot of anyone who watches the video will end up getting stalked by this being, although there is seemingly nothing that you can do to stop this one and it will pursue you for far longer than seven days. I’m not going to lie, I hated The Ring and found it to be one of the worst mainstream horrors of the last twenty years, so this automatically put me off when I saw it was sort of ripping that off.

The other film it rips off, although to a lesser extent, is the VHS franchise. One of the characters sits down and watches VHS tapes and after that some strange things start happening. That is a major plot point of Always Watching and the entire plot of VHS. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against using ideas from numerous source materials to make your film, but don’t make it as blatant as this with your unoriginality. Bring something fresh to the table and don’t give people that they have already seen as it will ultimately leave people uninterested.

That is one of my key concerns with Always Watching, it didn’t keep my attention at all. The first twenty to twenty-five minutes are just filled with nothing at all and it’s only when Milo starts watching the tapes that it starts getting interesting. Even then I was still checking Facebook on a regular basis and didn’t really miss anything. This is never a good thing in your film. Your audience should never be able to browse their phone for a minute or two at a time and know that they haven’t missed anything.

The Operator

It’s not just that I knew that I hadn’t missed anything that disappointed me, it was that I figured out exactly how the film was going to end after the very first scene. I went through the film hoping it wouldn’t be the case but ultimately it did turn out that what I had predicted actually happened. This was exceptionally disappointing and has ultimately lead me to write a relatively negative review.

If I can predict the ending of a film then it ruins it a bit for me. For example, I went to watch “The Avengers : Age of Ultron” at my local cinema yesterday and (spoiler alert), I knew that the Avengers were going to win before I even went in. Marvel, despite producing heavily enjoyable films, are terrible at building the antagonists (other than Loki) and not once in their films do you ever believe that they will actually win, and again it turned out to be the case.

At no stage in any film should I be able to predict exactly how the film ends and as I say, independent and low budget films are normally good for that, but not this time.

Now onto the camera work. Normally I heavily criticise the camera work when it’s a found footage style film, but you know what, I can’t this time. The camera work is actually done really well, with the exception of when the characters are being chased. The cameras are held in a relatively still manner and it doesn’t feel like the cameraman has Parkinson’s disease, which makes a nice change. I was genuinely surprise that they actually used a variety of techniques to have a relatively steady image, and I can only applaud them for them.

The way the film is put together though isn’t the best, with jump cuts in particular proving a big distraction. Normally when a film uses jump cuts it is done in a very smooth way, but no, not Always Watching, they decided to go with the “fuck it” approach to editing a film together. There is a scene early on at a party when it jumps so often that you struggle to adapt to what you’re seeing before it jumps again, with the sound becoming somewhat distorted by all of this.

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It’s not just the way it’s put together either, it’s that there are scenes which are blatantly filler. When Milo’s lights turn out, he just wanders aimlessly around his home for some time before finally going off to turn the fuses back on. I mean, firstly who doesn’t know where the fuse box in his house is, and secondly, why are you just wandering between your kitchen and dining room at a pace that wouldn’t even be classed as a leisurely stroll. He walks into a room and just stands there for numerous seconds on end before moving off again, and this is well before he thinks that he is being stalked. It is blatant filler at it’s worst.

In many ways I think the film also uses too much Slenderman and after a while it loses it’s impact. There are too many scenes in all in a row where Slenderman is contained within it somewhere and it stops becoming interesting or scary when you’re actually expecting him to appear right there and then.

In terms of the cast, they’ve done a reasonable job with such a relatively small cast and all three main characters are well acted for the most part, and the interactions after they discover that Milo has been stalking Sara for sometime is actually done really well. When Sara confronts Milo about it, she has the perfect mix of being pissed off, inquizative and hurt by what has happened, and this bounces off of the vulnerability of Milo. Despite this, Sara and Charlie never really develop and it’s hard to really care about them as characters because you barely see them until half way through.

As a horror movie it really fails to be scary, and whilst I applaud it for trying to replicate the games in many ways, including Slenderman’s movement style, it’s not done in a way that makes me feel particularly scarred and that’s what horror films are for. You can successfully predict every time that he is about to appear and this takes the terror out of it somewhat.

Despite all of the negatives though, I will give Always Watching one thing and that is that I didn’t clock watch once. Not once did I look at how long was left in the film and that is the first time I have done that in quite a while. The pacing is excellent and this keeps you interested enough to keep watching (well, when you’re not checking your phone anyway). It made a nice change.

The Operator

Summary

It’s rare that I find an indie film where I am not constantly checking the time and where I feel like it’s a chore to review it. It is certainly the first time in a while that I have been able to say that, however, the film just isn’t that interesting or engaging. I was able to regularly check my Facebook throughout and never felt like I missed anything.

Whilst it tries to replicate the experience of the games, the predictability of the film in both it’s ending and it’s attempted scares in general makes it lose something.

If you’re a fan of the games then I think you will relatively enjoy this, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Please stop throwing dead animals at me!

Year Released : 2014posters
Director : Craig Efros
Cast : Matt Doherty, Sunkrish Bala, Val Morrison, Bresha Webb, Matthew Carey and Lance Henrikson

If there is one type of movie that emerged and then subsequently died a very quick death over the last fifteen or so years it is the found footage movie. Most genres last decades before they become tiresome but that wasn’t the case with found footage movies.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, the list of found footage films could be placed onto a post-it not, but then along came a certain film by the name of “The Blair Witch Project” and after that the market was saturated with them. This isn’t to say that they weren’t good, with films such as [REC], Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead doing a reasonable job, but soon after that they soon took a turn as film-makers realised that it is a very cheap way of making films.

The popularity soon wained, almost to the point where every found footage film over the last few years has been very poorly received, and there are many reasons for this, not least of which that it is principally used in the horror genre and once you have seen one, you’ve seem most of them really.  Whilst some films have tried new ideas, such as the VHS franchise and the surprisingly enjoyable “As Above, So Below”, which made it into my Top Ten Films of 2014, the majority are near enough identical to each other and that is why I wanted to watch this film.

I initially saw the trailer several months ago and it automatically reminded me of a film called “Grave Encounters” and the reason for that they appeared to have near identical plots, and that is literally the only reason I decided to watch it.

Plot

Harold (Carey) is given the chance to accompany his old friends on the filming of their popular TV show “S.P.I.T”, a show that goes into abandoned buildings in search of paranormal activity. Whilst catching up with Tim (Doherty), he is told that the show is 100% fake and all the jumps and scares are programmed by technical whizz, Bill (Henrikson).

For the latest episode the group are heading to an abandoned orphanage named Hollows Grove, and the research shows that it was rife with disease and murder when it was open, with an average of two children dying every day. Everything seems to be going as expected at first as they explore the home and they think that Bill has outdone himself by moving wheelchairs, balls and various other things whilst they are in the rooms, as well as he normal tricks.

As the evening goes on things start turning more sinister as Chad (Morrison) is shoved down a set of stairs, doors that were previously locked are suddenly open, lights turning themselves on and off and shadowy figures moving behind stained-glass doors. The group largely laugh things off until they find Bill has been tied up and his throat is slit by an unseen force. At this point they realise that this is now very serious and they must find a way out before it’s too late.

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Why does that all sound familiar?

Well as I mentioned earlier, this looked near enough exactly like “Grave Encounters” and the reason it looked exactly like that film in the trailers is because it is exactly like that that film. The only minor difference being that it’s not set in a mental hospital, but rather an orphanage. There are so many elements that are stolen from Grave Encounters that it is a bit beyond a joke, and I’m not actually kidding, it is such a blatant rip off. If it was just one or two things then I wouldn’t mind, but major plot points, scares and even the basic premise are exactly the same.

Both films are set around a TV crew from a show investigating old buildings for paranormal activities, but both openly admit that the show is fake. Both TV crews are warned against going inside by the caretaker for the building and once inside, both TV crews set up an where they can store all equipment and a lighting rig. Both then go and explore the building, finding a window that someone was thrown out of in the past and one of the characters is thrown out of later in the film.

Both have a character that is slammed up and down by unseen forces like they’re fighting Ermac from the Mortal Kombat franchise and both find that when they go to leave the building, there is no longer any route out and all windows are now bordered up tight.

I could expand on that but it would cause too many spoilers but believe me, if you have seen “Grave Encounters” then you have seen this film. It’s about as close to a blatant rip off as I have seen in recent years. It doesn’t even rip off from “Grave Encounters” either, oh no, it rips off from various other horror films and there’s not really a single unique idea in the entire film. Another such example is that they think that the effects, bumps and exploding water pipes are all down to the special effects guy, only for them to later find him in a position where it couldn’t possibly have been him *cough*House on Haunted Hill*cough*.Hollows-Grove2

The main problem with “Hollows Grove” is that the presenters are just absolutely awful at presentation. They deliver lines like Tony Blair used to do and yet it’s supposedly a very popular show. There’s no possible way that this would be a popular show because the delivery of the lines is just diabolically poor. Other than that though the way the TV set up is presented isn’t actually that unbeliveable as they are shown in a production meeting and actually have a good chemistry, which means that you do connect with the characters on a tiny basis as they are at least shown to have personalities and a relationship with each other.

Whilst the film has many issues, the biggest one for me is the pacing. The film seems to be going fairly nicely, slow building for a while….and a while longer…and a while longer….and all of a sudden they realise that they only have about 10/15 minutes left and they really have to have something happen, and all of a sudden everything turns from maybe 20mph to over 100mph and they try and fit in too much, too soon. The characters even show this as they are fine with the situation that they are in one minute, but then  within seconds they see a ghost or two and all of a sudden they are fighting with each other and the characters start dying off at any exceptionally quick rate. The final ten to fifteen minutes don’t really give you a chance to breathe and you’re left thinking that they could have realistically eased up on the slow build and have things happen far sooner and quicker than they do.

So are there are main positive points that I can give to the film? I’m not going to lie, I am struggling to think of a positive that can’t be countered with a negative. For example, I like that a lot of the changes, such as objects moving, are subtle, but even though they are subtle, they are exceptionally predictable. The thing with horror movies, especially found footage films, is that they are incredibly predictable. For example, they spend a lot of time on the second floor of the building and there is a wheelchair in the corridor that keeps moving long before the characters notice, but the issue is that as an audience member, you notice and you predict it happening as well.

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Summary

I can’t give the movie a positive review. Whilst I didn’t hate it, it has too many issues that are hard to ignore, with the main one being it’s carbon-copy nature to “Grave Encounters” and whilst I obviously don’t know if the director has seen that film, I’d be amazed if he hasn’t given that it shares far too many similarities to be a coincidence.

I’m not going to lie to you, this isn’t a good film. Even though it’s only 80 minutes long and that does go along relatively quickly, it’s hard to enjoy it because of how predictable it is.

Don’t waste your time.

There’s something more to this place. Our cells don’t work. Neither does the T.V. or radio. We’re isolated.

Year Released : 2007Rec_poster
Directors :Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Cast : Manuela Velasco, Ferrán Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano and Pablo Rosso

I feel almost like I’m cheating by reviewing [REC] as it is relatively well known compared to the other films I have reviewed, however, with the fourth film coming soon I have decided to review the first three before going to the new one whenever they eventually decide to release that.

[REC] is a Spanish horror film that has since been remade in America as “Quarantine”, but much like most other American remakes, whilst it may be good, it is not anywhere near as excellent as it’s source material.

Whilst the subject matter isn’t very realistic, not helped by the third film in the series, [REC] is one of the most enjoyable horror films around and arguably my favourite non-English language film.

Plot

Angela (Velasco) is a TV presenter of a show that goes behind the scenes of companies and services that operate during the night, and her latest episode will be following the fire service. After initially being very bored, she finds herself joining a call at an apartment building where they believe an old lady has been severely injured.

When they arrive the lady bites a police officer and when they try and rush him to the hospital, they find that they have been locked in the building by the government and all other exits are being sealed.

As they try to find an exit the old woman attacks several other people, who themselves eventually start attacking others, and it becomes a race against time as the survivors are hunted down.

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What makes the film enjoyable?

Unlike most found footage films, you aren’t bombarded by noises from unseen sources or even characters being terrified by something that isn’t on screen either. I think that this was due to the found footage style of film not being over-saturated at the time this film was made and therefore most in the genre felt very fresh.

I have nothing against found footage films and some of the efforts have been excellent. Before [REC] came out in 2007 found footage was still a largely unknown genre and the only genuine example was the well-received “Blair Witch Project” and whilst subsequent films have been enjoyable (Cloverfield for example), [REC] and it’s sequel (review coming soon) are, in my opinion, two of the most ground-breaking films in what was still a new genre.

For me it’s the attention to detail that I find draws me in more than most other films in the genre, and reactions in certain situations are genuine because the actor/ress didn’t know what was going to happen. There is a scene early on when the fire crew are attempting to open a door whilst Angela is facing the camera. They decide to open it using what appears to be an axe and Manuel Velasco hadn’t been told that this was happening and her reaction of shock and screaming was genuine, and that’s awesome to watch.

Other examples of great attention to detail include Angela trying on a fireman’s helmut and then struggling to hear what the fireman is saying to her, or a Japanese family that can’t speak Spanish being scared because they never truly understand on the slightest level what is happening due to the language barrier.

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Velasco puts in an astounding performance as Angela. Velasco comes from a career as a TV presenter and therefore her performance felt very natural and makes her genuinely likeable. It’s the first time in a while that I have seen a female lead in a horror film where you would actually describe her as likeable and someone who you genuinely want to survive what is happening.

The characters and their reactions really make this film, right down from the minor aspects of their personalities, such as Angela not being one dimensional in the slightest and the fireman being very friendly until he sees that the film crew is filming a woman being shot and he gives a “you’re really not fucking helping” look on his face after previously being very tolerant of them from their time at the fire station.

After the infection starts spreading amongst those trapped in the building, self-preservation starts taking hold and that’s definitely not something you see in most horror films, and one such example comes shortly after the 50 minute mark when one character has been handcuffed to a set of stairs for the protection of others. Although there doesn’t seem to be a problem at first, some infected start to break through a nearby metal door and whilst the characters try to free her, they leave her to effectively fend for herself when it’s obvious that she isn’t going to get free. In most horror films some characters would stay behind to try and help her, risking infection themselves, but in this they’re very much in the “fuck that” camp when they realise that she isn’t going to be freed in time and they abandon her. This is more realistic to what would happen in real life in a similar situation.

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All of the characters feel exceptionally real and this could easily be because none of the cast were known to the English speaking world before this film and therefore they are free from any stereotypes that might be brought on by people seeing them in previous films. I’ll put that into some sort of context, if I saw a trailer for a movie and I saw that Katherine Heigl was in it, I would assume it was terrible and was a romantic comedy, regardless of what was in the trailer. There are so many famous actors/actresses that are only ever in one type of film and if they’re rubbish in two or more, they’re not going to get any better as time goes on in the genre, and the aforementioned Heigl is just terrible in everything that she is in. Anyway, I digress.

Being an unknown actor definitely helps in many ways and some of my favourite performances in films have come from actors/actresses that I’d never previously heard of, and one comes in the form of Carlos Lasarte in the role of Cesar.

Arguably the most enjoyable secondary character, Cesar doesn’t prominently feature but he steals the show when he is on screen. He is just delightful to watch and is an excellent example of when you have a strong supporting cast of characters, your film can be excellent. The stand out scene for the character and one of my favourite scenes in the movie comes when Angela is interviewing him and he is obviously delighted that was is happening is being filmed because it gives him a chance to become famous. He doesn’t say that he wants to be famous at any point during the story but you know that’s what he’s thinking due to how the actor plays him. The character is hilarious to watch because he unknowingly makes numerous racist comments about the foreign family to the camera, thinking he is not getting filmed, but when he finds out that he has been getting filmed saying that his only concern is that his forehead was sweaty. Cesar only has a few lines but the presence he provides is fantastic.

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A lack of a soundtrack actually aids the film exceptionally well, and the sound editing is fantastic. In most horror films you are effectively told when to be scared by the sound effects, or when you are scared it isn’t what’s actually on screen, it’s a loud, sudden sound effect that does it. Back in the 1970s and 1980s the horror film industry boomed because horrors weren’t treating their fans like idiots and telling them when to be scared, they respected their audience and you don’t get that these days.

The best horror films aren’t the ones where you get constant action, they are the ones that take the time to develop their characters and the story, and [REC] is one of the finest examples of this as it’s not a few short breaks of nothing happening with sudden large amounts of action, it’s consistently building and building without feeling like you’re being taken on a rollercoaster. The tension consistently builds and you find yourself getting drawn into it before it eventually reaches it’s conclusion.

Most films with a zombie theme, or at least a film with an infection that symptons similar to the rage virus in “28 Days Later” have the characters constantly under the threat of the zombies, there is sometimes no relenting in this and you become less and less invested in the story, [REC] is very different and doesn’t feel like a zombie/infection-themed film because it doesn’t force it on you, infact, for most of the early part of [REC] you don’t realise that it’s a zombie-themed film and is just a horror film, that is before one of the doctors is beaten, but by this point a significant portion of the film has already gone by, 42 minutes and 33 seconds to precise.

With a run time of just 75 minutes from the start of the film to it’s end credits, [REC] doesn’t give itself a lot of time to work with and I mentioned in my review for the extremely flawed “Zombeavers” that if you have a short film then you have to do something exceptional to make it worth watching, and whilst I couldn’t wait for that film to end, I found myself wanting more at the end of [REC]. I had been drawn in and felt really invested in the characters and the story.

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Summary

Even if you don’t like found-footage style films, I would urge you to watch [REC] as it is one of the best in the not only that sub-genre, approvedbut the whole of the horror genre. I would rate this as one of my favourite horror films, with only “The Thing” (1982) and “The Fly” (1988) being higher on that list off of the top of my head.

The performances of the cast, the characters, the storyline and the confined setting make it very hard not to feel the tension throughout and whilst I wouldn’t say that it is a masterpiece, it is one of the most original films that I have seen in the last ten years and it doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it before, which is something that can’t easily be said for most films in the found-footage category.

If you’ve seen “Quarantine” and enjoyed it, you owe it to yourself to watch the original film as it’s better than it’s remake (and I do actually like “Quarantine). With a rating at the current time of 7.5/10 on IMDB you know you’re going to get a good film, especially as very few horror films get beyond 6/10 these days, let alone above 7.