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[ATH] REC (2007)

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Saturday, 6 December 2014

Posted at : 1:25 am

One witness. One camera.

addicted to horror

the story
A cameraman and a reporter become trapped in an apartment building alongside residents who are infected with a deadly virus.

the good
+ uses the found footage gimmick to its advantage
+ adrenaline-pumping pace
+ outstanding sound design
+ effective jump scares
+ minimal special effects
+ extensive number of characters
+ ingenious third act reveal
+ terrifying finale

the bad
- dawdling introduction
- bland secondary characters

the ugly
high level of violence and gore
very high level of scares and frightening scenes
low level of nudity and sexual themes
high level of profanity

things I learned from watching this movie (may include spoilers)
1. Stay away from suspiciously unresponsive old ladies.
2. Always blame the local Asian immigrant family.
3. Don't stand next to glass doors.
4. Some cameramen love their jobs to death. Literally.
5. The penthouse suite isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Found footage horror is a thoroughly mined genre that has more often than not yielded underwhelming results, but REC indubitably stands tall even amongst the genre’s strongest offerings. Making clever use of found footage conventions, REC advances at breakneck pace all while delivering adrenaline-pumping terror and effective jump scares thanks to engrossing sound design and minimal special effects. It also builds up to a disturbing finale triggered by a rather ingenious third act reveal. The cast is of considerable size here, which consequently leads to some bland secondary characters, but the film nonetheless juggles all of its moving parts in an impressive fashion. More than just an outstanding found footage horror film, REC is an exceptional piece of Spanish filmmaking to boot.

horror meter: 5 firefighting stars (out of 5)

A Guest Post: The Top Five Home Invasion Horror Films

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Posted at : 12:20 am

How exactly does one define a “home invasion horror film” amongst the other subdivisions of the horror genre…and what makes these particular motion pictures so frightening? Remarkably, many of the instantly-recognizable classics such as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – not to mention the creepy yet so expertly executed Cape Fear – fall into the home invasion category, though they’re normally associated with other cinematic classifications. This body of films feature a home invasion setup as a key plot device, with many critics explaining how such films reflect an “increased fear of the erosion of distinctions between private and public space” and that they also reflect “a sense that the outside world is more dangerous and unpredictable than ever before.”

And indeed, therein lies the embedded sheer terror factor of such films: The uneasiness of knowing that at any time, at any given moment, our privacy and security at home that we too often take for granted can be violated. While science fiction-esque plots and action potboilers are often times taken far too out of real world context to be relatable, there’s something about the home invasion scenario that can be all too real and all too possible in our own lives.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five of cinema’s most shocking examples of this subgenre:

    5. Funny Games (2007)

    A terrifying remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name – with both pictures made by the same director, Michael Haneke – Funny Games stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet and is, according to Haneke himself, a “reflection and criticism of violence used in media.” Did Haneke need to remake his own film for American audiences in shot-for-shot fashion? Probably not – but the plot is as equally terrifying in both versions of Funny Games: Members of a family, George and Ann Farber, their son Georgie and their dog Lucky, arrive at their lake house only to be taken hostage by sadistic neighbors who force them to participate in a variety of twisted games in order to survive. To say the remake of Funny Games doesn’t end on a triumphant note is an understatement of gargantuan proportions.

    4. Wait Until Dark (1967)

    Directed by Terence Young and starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston, 1968’s Wait Until Dark isn’t your average home invasion film – here we have a blind girl (Hepburn) whose husband accidentally comes into possession of a doll containing heroin. After she is left alone in her apartment, three men terrorize her in an attempt to find the doll, staging an elaborate act in which one portrays a policeman and another an old college friend of her husband. Alan Arkin, playing one of the sadistic killers, complements Hepburn’s damsel in distress performance satisfyingly enough, but many audiences first viewing Wait Until Dark ultimately left theaters asking…”Why didn’t she just lock that DOOR?”

    3. When a Stranger Calls (1979)

    Often considered by critics “two different films in one,” 1979’s When a Stranger Calls is a classic sometimes labeled a horror film, but more often thought of as an action/thriller piece. Director and co-writer Fred Walton crafted one of the most memorable opening sequences in cinema, finding its way onto Bravo’s 100 scariest moments in movie history list and placing a psychotic caller inside the house of the victim…now considered a terrifyingly ingenious idea. Carol Kane portrays Jill Johnson, a 1970s teenager who earns extra money babysitting and who is suddenly thrust into a nightmare when one of her jobs sitting for a prominent doctor and his wife leads to a horrific stalking situation. Carol begins receiving phone calls from a stranger interested in knowing whether or not she has “checked the children,” but the outrageous twist of this film comes when police inform Carol that they have traced the call and that it’s coming from inside the same house.

    2. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

    What can be said about this seminal “slasher to end all slasher flicks” that hasn’t already? This was director John Carpenter’s crowning achievement, a film that relies on mood and atmosphere to such a thick, brooding degree it borders on mercilessness. Here, Carpenter proves a film doesn’t need buckets of gore or outrageously staged, graphically enhanced kill sequences to make a statement; incredibly effective score, lavish use of shadows and a foreboding, ominous overtone will do just fine. Originally conceived as The Babysitter Murders, Halloween tells the story of Michael Myers, who brutally stabs to death his sister as a six-year-old boy, only to grow up and escape the mental institution he has been sitting absolutely silent in for years. His psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (played by the late Donald Pleasence) traces Michael to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois where the masked killer is now searching for his other teenage sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

    What follows in this absolutely seminal, groundbreaking horror/terror masterpiece is a game of cat and mouse as Michael slashes his way through Laurie’s high school friends on Halloween night, one by one, trying to get to his surviving sibling, with Loomis trying to put him down once and for all. Halloween's home invasion horror comes in the form of the way in which Michael slips in and out, most mysteriously, of all the houses Laurie and her friends are babysitting in that fateful night, until he finally finds a way to get his hands around his sister’s neck…quite literally.

    1. Black Christmas (1974)

    Considered one of the most important Canadian horror films ever made, 1974’s Black Christmas – which was later remade but fell mostly unnoticed – weaves terror and humor into a “festive holiday package.” Director Bob Clark creates what has become known as a “Canuxploitation” picture, with the plot focusing on the “Billy” character who, days before Christmas, sneaks into the attic of a university’s sorority house. Unbeknownst to the girls inside (played by Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin and Lynne Griffith), Billy has come in the form of a nasty intruder…one set on terrorizing the ladies through obscene phone calls, death threats and, ultimately, murder.

    Interestingly, Black Christmas plays its cards close to the When a Stranger Calls vest, as it’s eventually discovered by characters including John Saxon’s “Police Lt. Fuller” that Billy’s calls are coming from inside the sorority house itself. Clark, like Carpenter with Halloween and his use of shadows and mood, makes the sorority house a focal point of the film; a “brooding centerpiece” that’s impressively gothic as any English castle in the foggy foothills.
If horror films and their thriller kissing cousins have taught us anything, it’s that door locks are essentially useless. But growing up, we were all under the assumption that a person’s home is the safe place…the protected vault where life and its abnormalities can’t reach us. It is this notion that home invasion horror cinema shatters like a proverbial cursed mirror, staging some of the most violent attacks and tensest action inside the households that could very well have been our own.

Keep in touch with writer Spencer Blohm on Twitter (@bspencerblohm).

Weekly Updates #250 (3.11.2014 - 9.11.2014)

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Sunday, 30 November 2014

Posted at : 8:33 pm

I have fallen behind a little with these Weekly Updates, but everything should be back on track soon enough. In the meantime, I have a few other things lined up which I will be posting over the next week, so do check back here if you’re interested. As for the two films featured on this week, they were fortunately both quite good. Read on for more on them.


The Conversation (1974) - 8/10
The Conversation is the sort of film that is so much of its time yet also feels as relevant today as it did forty years ago. It is a quintessential piece of 1970s filmmaking, having arrived at a time when surveillance culture was on the rise and conspiracy theories were a dime a dozen. This is a movie where paranoia reigns supreme, and Gene Hackman perfectly captures that as the obsessive protagonist of the story. I was also surprised to see a young Harrison Ford in an early supporting role before he went on to do greater things. The Conversation is a tense and taut thriller, deliberately paced and undoubtedly a slow burn of sorts, but thoroughly gripping and proficient from a filmmaking and narrative standpoint. Francis Ford Coppola was something of a force of nature all throughout the 1970s, and while he may be remembered best for Apocalypse Now and The Godfather films that he directed during that time period, The Conversation certainly holds its own amongst those greats.


The Babadook (2014) - 7/10
I don’t generally go to see horror films in the cinema, the reasoning being that I find them scarier to watch by myself rather than surrounded by potentially loud and/or distracting people. Plus, the genre itself is very hit-and-miss nowadays and so you never know if a horror movie will actually deliver. In some cases, however, the critical reception and word of mouth is positive enough to warrant a visit to the local theatre in order to catch said horror film on the big screen. The Babadook is one of those cases, and so I went to see this lauded independent hailing from Australia in theatres. Having seen it, I can attest that it is indeed very scary and thoroughly well-done. Jennifer Kent shows considerable promise as a first-time director, and I am very curious to find out what she has planned for the future. There is some terrific acting work as well here, with leads Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman making for a memorable mother and son pairing. I was a little disappointed to see that the film decided to opt for ambiguity rather than relaying proper answers in its final act, but I do contend that there is plenty here to like otherwise. In any case, I am certainly glad to have caught The Babadook while it was still playing in theatres.

Gone Girl (2014) reviewed

Filed Under ( ) by Andrei S. on Sunday, 16 November 2014

Posted at : 5:14 pm

“I have learned that only two things are necessary to keep one’s wife happy. First, let her think she’s having her own way. And second, let her have it.” – Lyndon B. Johnson


‘What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?’ These are the questions that David Fincher’s revelatory Gone Girl opens with. A film based on Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel of the same name, Gone Girl seems like an odd choice for director David Fincher initially – a little too much romance and relationship drama and not quite enough mischief and serial killings. However, the many who read Flynn’s 2012 bestseller will know that there is plenty there for Fincher to latch onto and add to his twisted collection of all things transgressive.

And he does so from the first shot. A man’s robust arm caressing the fragile head of his wife, echoing the questions above as he contemplates breaking her head open and ‘unspooling’ its contents in search for much-needed answers to marital dilemmas. All metaphorical, of course. This is Fincher at his most restrained – the violence is coursing through words rather than deeds. Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, the husband in question, while Rosamund Pike takes on the role of wife Amy, who vanishes from the Dunne household one morning, leaving only an indicative scene of violent struggle behind.

No one knows what happened to Amy, and soon enough fingers start to point towards do-gooder Nick, who smiles for the cameras, takes inappropriate selfies with attractive female locals, and seems to know surprisingly little about his missing wife. The media takes notice, and not too long afterwards everyone is against Nick save for his supportive twin sister Margo. The question, of course, is whether Nick did actually murder Amy or not, but Gone Girl is only half-concerned with the mystery at hand. This is a film that takes marriage and relationships to task – it explores their dark corners and doesn’t shy away when things get ugly.

The story jumps in time between the present-day unfolding of the investigation into Amy’s disappearance and flashbacks triggered by Amy’s own diary entries, the latter of which gradually reveal that it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows with the Dunne couple. Gone Girl jerks its audience between two different viewpoints which seem downright contradictory at times, and loyalties naturally develop for either Nick or Amy. We are like children partaking in their parents’ quarrel and being forced to pick sides as Fincher watches from the sidelines, having orchestrated the whole bit.

Of course, this all started back in Flynn’s novel, but it is perfectly recreated for the big screen. The truth to the matter is that Gone Girl is a brilliant adaptation of its source material. One would expect no less, considering that Flynn took it upon herself to come up with the screenplay for the film. The results speak for themselves – Gone Girl is utterly loyal to its literary predecessor, though never to a fault. In the process of distilling hundreds of pages of book content into a two and a half hour motion picture, Flynn does away with superfluous characters and extraneous details, but leaves everything else—and everything that matters—intact.

Flynn’s words are brought to life by a remarkably casted set of actors. Ben Affleck is in rare form as a secretive husband hounded by the media and the police, and he puts his rugged charm to good use in the role. This Nick Dunne is more sympathetic than his book counterpart – partly due to what Flynn chooses to leave behind in the transition to cinema, but also because Affleck is at his very best here. His counterpart Rosamund Pike fares just as well, if not better. She manages to bring Amy to life in all her colours and goes through an impressive array of emotions as she does so. Pike has considerable range as an actress, and Gone Girl showcases that in the best way possible. Nominations will be sure to follow come awards season.

Then there are the supporting players who give the leads a run for their money. Kim Dickens is excellent in the role of lead detective Rhonda Boney, a Marge Gunderson-esque figure who leads the investigation into Amy’s disappearance with a clinical eye. Carrie Coon is something of a revelation in her big screen debut as Nick’s sister Margo. Having proven herself to be a promising screen presence in HBO’s television series The Leftovers earlier this year, Coon continues her streak in Gone Girl with a different kind of performance from her previous work on television – but one that is just as impressive. Tyler Perry also impresses thanks to an ingenious bit of typecasting. He stars as the hotshot attorney Tanner Bolt who comes to Nick’s defence, and provides a good deal of comic relief and magnetic charisma in the role.

The only outlier is Neil Patrick Harris, who portrays Amy’s former boyfriend Desi Collings. While he handles himself adequately in the role, his performance is very clearly overshadowed by what his colleagues turn in. This is not to say that Harris is not a good actor in any way, but it certainly feels as though he does not quite fit in with Fincher’s dark cinematic universe. In any case, it does not take away from the impact one particular scene involving Desi has – it remains a brutal and unnerving moment in the story that seems to have been ramped up to eleven for the film adaptation.

Part of that impact is owed to the ominous tunes of the score playing in the background as the scene comes to an unrelenting climax. The score in Gone Girl is a character in itself, really. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross return as composers for their third collaboration with Fincher on film. This one is just as memorable their last two forays, and it’s definitely more in tune with The Social Network in terms of how well it complements and contrasts the images on-screen. From the soothing, near dream-like piano notes to the foreboding drone music powered by ticking noises in the background, this is a score that seems ever-present – it is overbearing in the best way possible, always building up tension or alleviating the suspense in order to temporarily give way to a different, much needed kind of atmosphere.

Ultimately, Gone Girl is more than just the rare sort of cinematic adaptation that rivals its source material – it is an outstanding film to boot. With David Fincher at the helm, Gillian Flynn as screenwriter, a cast of (mostly) very well-suited actors bringing these characters to life, and another phenomenal score from ‘regulars’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, this could not have been anything other than one for the books. Furthermore, its commentary on media culture and its thought-provoking musings on the notions of marriage and relationships elevate Gone Girl beyond a mere genre exercise and to a socially relevant piece of filmmaking. Also, Fincher’s catalogue is looking better off with it – and considering his track record, that’s not something that is said lightly.