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Movie Review: Scream 4 (2011) April 21, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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The original Scream was a relevation for horror fans, and a pretty darn funny one at that.  The two sequels that followed were okay, in my memory a complete blur, most probably because they were basically variations of the first film.

Hard to believe, but Scream 4 comes 11 years after the third film, which to me suggests ‘reboot’ or a ‘homage’ as opposed to genuine sequel.  The core cast from the first three films are still alive and kicking — Neve Campbell returns as Sidney Prescott, and Courteney Cox and David Arquette return as Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley, respectively (now married, though in real life they are separated — must have been awkward).  The fresh blood comes from the up-and-coming Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, but there are also plenty of cameos, from Anna Paquin to Kristen Bell.

I must admit, given that this film was directed by the great Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson (who penned the screenplays of the first two in the series), I expected a lot more.  The premise could not have been less uninspiring — Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsbro years after her brutal encounters as a part of her book tour.  Of course, the ‘Ghostface’ killer returns and starts killing people all over the place, and there seems to be a pattern that matches the original killings.  Who could it be?  What horror film conventions will be adhered to or broken this time?

On the bright side, Scream 4 does contain some clever moments and witty remarks — the ‘film-in-a-film’ idea is not a novel one but I enjoyed the way it kick started the film, and the whole social networking/instant feed concept was intelligently mixed into the plot to give it a contemporary flavour.  But on the whole, Scream 4 felt like absolutely nothing new.  The people are older but that’s about it.  If you’ve seen any of the first three films you’ll probably get a good dose of deja vu, except this time the jokes are more stale and the frights are less scary.  The sharp edge of the original has dulled over time.

In fact, it would be a stretch to call Scream 4 a true horror film — it’s more comedy than anything else, except it’s not that funny; even as a parody it’s not particularly effective.  It was like an old dog desperately trying to perform old tricks — very good tricks, but unfortunately we’ve seen it all before.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Devil (2010) December 10, 2010

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Unlike most people, I still look forward to M Night Shyamalan movies — even if he just produced it and came up with the idea for the story.

Yes, Devil is neither written nor directed by Shyamalan, but it is still very much his project.  It is the first film of the Night Chronicles trilogy, which deals with supernatural themes in modern society.  Without giving too much away, it’s about a bunch of strangers who get stuck in a skyscraper elevator, and one of them may or may not be the devil.

Sounds like a gimmicky film, and it kind of is, but Devil is better than I expected considering the low budget and the narrow premise.  There is an inevitability about the progression of the plot, but I was nevertheless kept guessing until the end — and knowing Shyamalan, there is always a clever “twist” or “revelation” of some sort to look forward to.

That said, potential viewers of Devil need to keep their expectations in check, for this is really not much more than an average film backed by an intriguing idea.  My biggest problem with the film is that none of the characters felt very convincing.  The situation, the reactions and the dialogue don’t feel very authentic, and as a result the film never becomes as scary as it should be.

Nevertheless, at a tight 80-minutes, Devil is a crafty little thriller that can be enjoyable if in the right mood.

3 out of 5 stars

DVD Review: Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (2008) December 2, 2010

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I first came across Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet when I was surfing online with the computer volume on full blast and a banner ad started screaming so loud that I had to shut down the page.  But at least it got my attention.  The next time I saw the ad I watched the whole thing and it seemed intriguing enough.  Naked ghost woman who hacks people to death sounded like an idea as good as any slasher movie out there, so why not?

As it turned out, I probably should have listened to the warnings.  Blood Night makes other straight-to-DVD movies seem like big screen feature blockbusters.  There’s nothing horrifically wrong with the film, but there’s also nothing to make it worth watching.

I thought I would learn something about the real Mary Hatchet story (if there is one), but as I understand it, the film is a mash up of a number of Long Island legends.  It has a cookie cutter plot and progression, complete with awful dialogue and acting (the only name I recognised was Nate Dushku, the brother of Eliza).  Worst of all, it wasn’t even scary.  Not even the ‘boo’ scares were effective.  The excessive blood and gore actually had the opposite effect, making the film campy and less frightening.

To me, Blood Night is the type of movie that may possibly be enjoyed by a group of drunk teenagers at a party — because you don’t really need to focus, the supposed scares induce laughter, and there is lots of nudity involved.  For everyone else, don’t waste your time.

1 star out of 5

DVD Review: Frozen (2010) November 28, 2010

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I don’t usually expect much from smallish, straight-to-DVD horror films.  Frozen, a low budget ‘nature horror’ written and directed by Adam Green is essentially (with the exception of a couple of countries) one such film.  Perhaps it’s the low expectations, or perhaps it’s the unique premise and brilliant execution of tension and fear — whatever the reason, Frozen ranks right up there as one of the best horror flicks of 2010.

Frozen is unlike any horror movie I’ve ever seen.  Featuring Emma Bell (had no idea who she was until I watched The Walking Dead), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from X-Men) and Kevin Zegers (Damien from Gossip Girl), Frozen has no supernatural monsters, no ghosts, no psychopathic killers.  It’s about three friends who take a trip to the snow and somehow end up in a terrifying predicament.  After a short set up, the majority of the film deals with how the they fight for survival, the difficult decisions they must make, and the grotesque consequences they will face.  I really don’t want to give away much more than that (the poster probably gives away more than it should), but I don’t find it surprising that there were reports of faintings during limited screenings across North America.

At a trim 94 minutes, Frozen is raw, intense, visceral, and frankly, terrifying.  Green does a great job of getting everything he can out of his script and his actors, none of which are first class.  It’s basically a well-executed concept with a “this could happen to me” edge to it.  Sure it could have been better, but given what must have been a miniscule budget, Frozen is a surprisingly satisfying little horror film that I fully recommend to those looking for a scare.

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: The Loved Ones (2009) October 22, 2010

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‘The Loved Ones’ screens in Australian cinemas from 4 November 2010

I find it strange that an Australian movie with Australian actors is already on DVD overseas and it hasn’t even shown here in Australia yet.  Lucky for me I caught a media screening of it earlier this week.

Nevertheless, The Loved Ones will no doubt generate plenty of interest for one big reason: Xavier Samuel (you know, that boy Riley from Twilight: Eclipse — it seems anything remotely Twilight related will kick up a storm these days).

In The Loved Ones, Samuel (who is almost unrecognisable without his Bieber haircut from Eclipse) plays Brent, a grief-stricken 17-year-old who is asked to ‘prom’ by a seemingly shy girl, Lola (Robin McLeavy).  When Brent refuses in favour of his girlfriend,  it becomes the worst mistake he’ll ever make in his life…

The Loved Ones has been described as Wolf Creek meets Pretty In Pink, though to be honest it reminds me of neither.  It’s a teen horror that feels eerily familiar, probably because it takes elements from a lot of other torture-porn horror films like Hostel, Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a result, while there isn’t anything completely like it as far as I know, it just doesn’t feel particularly fresh or original.

That said, it still provided some very decent scares (particularly visceral ones that challenge you to not look away), and I must admit there were a couple of nice little surprises thrown in there that I hadn’t expected.  The characters, especially the antagonists, are not well-drawn out at all (we needed more time with them in the ‘normal’ world), but they certainly are twisted and demented.

Not all of the scenes and dialogue worked in my opinion — they were a little clunky in some parts when you could tell the intention was to make the characters creepy, except they weren’t.  However, later events and sequences definitely make up for it.  The film is probably a lot more clever than I give it credit for.

As far as low budget horrors go, this is certainly one of the better made ones, especially by Australian standards.  At a trim 84-minutes, it gets straight into the action, wasting very little time from start to finish.  And despite there only being a handful of characters, everyone had a purpose and all the subplots were tied together nicely.

One of the things that annoyed me for some reason was the deliberate Americanising of the school aspects of the film.  Even though it is set in an unknown part of rural Australia, for some reason the school reminds you of every American school you’ve seen on TV, from the casual clothing to the lockers to how everyone runs out a second after the bell rings.  That decision, perhaps to connect with American audiences more, took away some of the Aussieness of the film.

Ultimately, The Loved Ones isn’t anything special, but if you want to be scared and disgusted (in a kind of fun, entertaining way), it should have no problem getting the job done.  If not, just watch it for Xavier Samuel.  He’s actually very very good in it.

3.25 out of 5

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