Two siblings join forces in order to destroy a supernatural mirror which caused the death of their parents eleven years ago.
+ terrifying all the way through + great casting of the child actors + effective use of flashbacks + gross-out horror done right + Karen Gillan and Annalise Basso
- a lot of the exposition doesn't end up mattering - present-day narrative isn't given enough importance - nonsensical instances of foreshadowing - third act is a jumbled mess - ending lacks any sort of catharsis
• moderate levels of violence and gore • high levels of scares and frightening scenes • low levels of nudity and sexual themes • moderate levels of profanity
things I learned from watching this movie (potential spoilers)
1. Supernatural mirrors hate cameras. 2. Printing grisly crime scene photos at your workplace is a bad idea. 3. Staying hydrated and well-fed is of utmost importance when trying to catch ghosts. 4. Don't eat apples while changing light bulbs. 5. A 10-year-old child can get arrested and committed to a psychiatric hospital for acting in self-defence.
Oculus delivers a true edge-of-your-seat experience, building up dread and delivering terror in equal measure. Through the effective use of flashbacks, the film navigates between past and present, offering precious insight into its main characters’ origins as it does so. Oculus also benefits from a reliable cast, with stand-out performances from Karen Gillan and Annalise Basso playing two sides of the same character. Director Mike Flanagan has a clear knack for the genre, devising some truly memorable scares while also making use of just the right amount of gross-out horror. Unfortunately, Oculus stops short of greatness when its third act kicks in. At this point the narrative begins to stumble, becoming more and more incoherent with every step it takes, and it becomes clear that much of the initial set-up will not be paid off to any meaningful degree. The lack of a cathartic ending is the film’s final nail in the coffin, and its failings are made all the more resonant by the fact that Oculus just barely misses its mark.
The Misfits (1961) - 5/10 The Misfits is one of those rare films whose production history is more talked about than the actual film. While that does undoubtedly owe it primarily to the controversies which took place behind the scenes, I came out of The Misfits wondering whether that wasn’t also in part due to the film itself being somewhat unremarkable. In other words, I didn’t think much of The Misfits. The film starts out quite slowly, following a rather uncertain plot trajectory which often seems to be leading nowhere. The story aims to be inspirational, but there’s too much melodrama for it to work effectively. While Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift acted in a manner worth their status, I found Marilyn Monroe’s performance to be terribly dull. Granted, her character was something of an airheaded blonde who tended towards the irritating, yet I couldn’t help but feel that Monroe’s approach to the role only worsened the situation. It is worth noting Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter, though, who both lit up the screen in their respective supporting roles whenever they showed up. There’s not much else to say about The Misfits, unfortunately. It’s a shame Clark Gable ended his career with more of a whimper rather than a bang, at least in my opinion, but there’s plenty else to remember the brilliant actor by. And Marilyn Monroe, well… she’s Marilyn Monroe.
Take Shelter (2011) - 8/10
Ever since I first saw the trailer for it, Take Shelter has been one of the most anticipated films of the year for me. Its enigmatic premise drew me in immediately, and all the talk regarding Michael Shannon’s performance made the film all the more alluring. I quite liked Shannon in a lot of his previous roles, but since he was often cast in supporting roles, I felt that he had yet to be given the opportunity to show cinema audiences his full potential. Following a nearly empty matinee screening on a quiet Sunday afternoon—the perfect circumstances under which to experience this movie, as it turns out—I am pleased to report that Take Shelter completely lived up to my expectations and became an instant contender for the best film of the year. Michael Shannon did indeed deliver on the buzz with a truly Oscar-worthy performance. Relentlessly suspenseful, fascinating, and quite often terrifying, Take Shelter had me fully engaged throughout. Although I can see how the ending to the film might alienate or anger certain viewers, I personally found the ambiguity with which director Jeff Nichols chose to conclude Take Shelter to be perfectly suitable. One drawback I had with the film, however, was Jessica Chastain and her character. While I thought Chastain’s performance was absolutely fine—though she is capable of so much more—I found her character to be rather poorly written, especially in comparison to Michael Shannon’s complex protagonist. Chastain was given little to work with as a result, so the blame doesn’t fall on her. Anyway, I’d hate to conclude my rambling on a negative, so I’ll just say that Take Shelter is unlike any other film this year, and it deserves all the praise that it’s been getting. Do give it a watch if you haven’t already. Preferably not while there's a thunderstorm outside, though.
After the longest span between Weekly Updates comes the shortest one? Well, not quite, but I would say it’s an improvement.
Tabloid (2011) - 6/10
I decided to attend a theatre screening of the documentary Tabloid on a whim, having remembered hearing some details regarding its premise a while back—a premise which immediately caught my attention due to its fascinating subject matter. While the film turned out to be appropriately amusing and consistently intriguing, I did find that I left the theatre with a certain sense of dissatisfaction. With Tabloid stuck in my mind the following couple of days, I eventually figured out that my lack of satisfaction stemmed from the fact that the film failed to offer the audience a full picture of the story, moreover delivering what I thought was a distorted version of what must have actually taken place. We often look for an objective approach to events when viewing documentaries, and unfortunately, Tabloid was anything but that. Now, that’s not to say that Tabloid is a failure as a result, but I suspect that other viewers might also feel the need for more details and perspectives regarding the events covered in the film, much like I did. Still, the film is surprisingly comedic for a documentary feature, and I found it both skilfully edited and featuring some creative scenes of reenactment. Ultimately, there is plenty to like about Tabloid, and even with its significantly skewed viewpoint, it remains a thoroughly fascinating and engaging film. Notably, this turned out to be my first acquaintance with Errol Morris documentaries. I will need to delve into some of his other work in the future.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993) - 6/10
I saw Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing shortly after reading the play itself. It turned out to be a very enjoyable film, and, much like all other Shakespeare works adapted by Branagh for the big screen, it was quite faithful to the source material. Branagh managed to assemble an interesting and undoubtedly talented cast for the film, including a few surprises such as Michael Keaton in an unconventional side role and an almost unrecognisable young Kate Beckinsale. I was most impressed by the locations and costuming, which I found really helped set this film apart from most other Shakespeare adaptations which feel more like stage plays rather than actual cinematic experiences. Unfortunately, some of the immersion is lost due to the decision to use the actors’ real accents, which led to an amalgamation of mostly English and American accents. This might not bother other viewers, but for me it immediately stood out and took me out of the film to some degree. Another negative was Michael Keaton, who turns in an incredibly goofy and scenery-chewing performance in the role of Dogberry. Now this would be fine and all, as anyone who has read the play knows that Dogberry is meant to be an over-the-top character, but Keaton takes it beyond mere caricature and is downright unpleasant to watch whenever he’s on-screen. Emma Thompson, on the other hand, as well as Kenneth Branagh himself, really shine in their respective roles and deliver memorable portrayals of Shakespeare’s immortalised characters. There is a lot going for Much Ado About Nothing, but it’s a shame that Branagh didn’t strive for a more serious adaptation and kept a tighter leash on his cast as this film had potential to be the definitive cinematic version of the much beloved play. In any case, I still liked Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing a great deal, even going as far as to see it twice in a relatively short timespan, and I would heartily recommend it to both Shakespeare aficionados and fans of Kenneth Branagh. And, really, we should all be both.
It’s been a while since the last Weekly Updates. Actually, that’s understating it a bit. It’s been the longest break between Weekly Updates yet. We are clearly going for broke here. In any case, here are three films that I have seen on the big screen this week. Yes, even that one.
Dracula (1931) - 6/10
I was lucky enough to see this horror classic on the big screen, which I suppose is rather rare nowadays. It was a thoroughly fascinating experience, though I did find that the film aged poorly. Unfortunately, this happens all too often within the horror genre, and there doesn’t seem to be any way around it. Still, I found Dracula’s first act to be surprisingly chilling—as for the rest of the film, it is a little all over the place. Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan stand out from the rest of the cast in the roles of Count Dracula and Van Helsing respectively, and Dwight Frye turns in a fun, if over-the-top performance as Renfield. There’s not much else to it, I’m afraid. Although I’m glad I got to see the film, especially on the big screen, I can’t say that I would recommend Dracula to anyone unless they have more than a passing interest in either Bela Lugosi or the roots of horror cinema.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) - 6/10
I didn’t plan on seeing The Adventures of Tintin in the theatre, having instead decided to wait for the Blu-ray release as I thought the film wouldn’t amount to much. I ended up seeing it on the big screen, however, and I am glad that I did. Not only did the film rise above my expectations considerably, but the 3D itself was quite good as well. There were a good couple of laughs to be had, the storyline was appropriately engaging and bolstered sufficient intrigue to captivate the audience, and the voice acting was particularly impressive. Jamie Bell voices Tintin fittingly, conveying both confidence and playfulness, Andy Serkis is almost unrecognisable as Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig plays against type as the main villain. There are a few cameos scattered throughout the movie, though I will refrain from going into specifics as I think they are best discovered individually. The CGI and animation also deserves a nod—Steven Spielberg and his team opted for a very unconventional art style, but it works very well with the rest of the film’s elements. There is one particular setpiece that is done in one extended take and is absolutely spectacular—eye candy in the truest sense—and made even more stunning by the use of 3D. Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about The Adventures of Tintin. To be fair, I did have some gripes with the plot and thought some more comedy could have helped in the parts where the movie takes itself a little too seriously. Despite those faults, The Adventures of Tintin stands amongst some of the better films of the year for me, and in my opinion is worthy of a watch.
The Awakening (2011) - 4/10 The Awakening was an absolutely perplexing film which left me, more than anything, with a deep sense of disappointment. Having seen repeated trailers for the film weeks in advance, I was eagerly awaiting its release. After hurriedly purchasing a ticket I made for the local cineplex with hope and gleeful anticipation in my eyes. Halfway through the screening, if you would have asked me what I thought of the film so far, I would have confidently replied that I’ve already saved up a seat in my top list for it. Here’s the deal with The Awakening: it’s a terribly confused, and as a result confusing movie. As I said, it starts off very well and delivers scares in a timely fashion, but its third act is such an absolute mess that it brings the rest of the film down. It is, truly, irredeemably bad. To put it in perspective, at one point there’s an attempted rape that is never brought up again and has no consequences on the story whatsoever. It is all rather unfortunate, particularly because Rebecca Hall is quite good in the leading role, and Dominic West and Imelda Staunton in supporting roles provide for some interesting character dynamics. The film also boasts some inventive moments of fright and is surprisingly eerie at times. It’s a shame that all of this doesn’t amount to much in the end. If anything, The Awakening is a great example of how the obsession with unpredictable twists and the need to explain every single detail of the story can push an overly ambitious horror film to the point of no return.