Monday 26 September 2016

Dark Eyes of London Bumper Holiday Special - Reviews of The Rezort (2016), Cell (2016). Black Road (2016), Viral (2016), Bleed (2016), I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Worry Dolls (2016), Darkest Day (2015), The Darkness (2016) and The Remains (2016)

Just back from my late summer break - yes, I had a lovely time, thanks for asking - but I also got to watch some films. So in a change from the usual single posts here's a quick trot through ten movies that I caught up with while sunning myself.

The Rezort aka Generation Z (UK 2015: Dir Steve Barker) A valiant attempt to paint something different on the tabula rasa canvas of the zombie movie. In the near future, following a global pandemic from which the world recovers, a group of the 'infected' are kept captive on an island with tourists paying to stay there and hunt the zombies down as sport. The cast are therefore a largely unlikeable bunch of ghouls, with the exception of Melanie (Jessica de Gouw, a ringer for Kirsten Stewart) who has her own infected back story and can't bring herself to open fire at the, er game (this gives her the same 'final girl' status as the one who won't have sex in a stalk 'n' slash film). When the security system is compromised the zombies are released to get their own back on their tormentors and things really take off. A rather shaky first half is quickly forgotten once the zombies start rampaging, and when island complex owner Wilton gets hers (a 'baddie' performance by Claire Goose that should secure her a part in a future Paul W.S. Anderson movie) we're on the side of the infected. Far better than its budget would suggest and with a nice Soylent Green style final reel twist, this latest from Steve Barker is another successful twist on the zombie theme from the creator of the equally inventive and watchable Outpost (2008) and Outpost: Black Sun (2012).

Cell (US 2016: Dir Tod Williams) Ah, the Stephen King adaptation. Surprised there are still directors out there willing to give it a go? Yep, me too. Tod (Paranormal Activity 2) Williams takes on the writer's doorstep of a novel about the world turned into psychotic zombies after receiving a communal signal through their mobile phones. I haven't read it, but the plot sounded like a curmudgeonly bit of schadenfreude to me. Cell starts with a big bang and then goes on to develop its characters (and there are a lot of them) as the survivors of the catastrophe hook up with each other and try and make sense of their new world. As usual there's some Kingisms which just don't work on screen - in this case it's the Raggedy Man character, who I understand is pivotal in the book but is a bit of a spare part in the movie, and whose role is left unexplained. John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson are on good form here (although what Cusack was doing with a syrup on loan from Edward Scissorhands beats me - oh, that was his real hair?) and a gradual sense of nihilism creeps into the movie, asking the viewer to take it more seriously than perhaps they were expecting (rather like the 2007 King adaptation, Frank Darabont's The Mist). It's a film that may improve on second viewing.

Black Road (US 2016: Dir Gary Lundgren) An ultra low budget sci fi flick that could do with a lot more money and a decent script to elevate it above its cheap and not particularly cheerful state. In the year 2029, Dylan is an ex-military agent turned part cyborg - he's been equipped with a dynamic cerebral implant called Clyde, who by being able to 'talk' to the agent acts as Dylan's point man and conscience too. Dylan meets Lisa, who asks our cyber-hero to help her get some money owed from her ex-husband, in return for certain, er, favours. The sci-fi elements are pretty thin on the ground, and don't do much to disguise a Raymond Chandler-esque 'who can you trust?' story heavy on the wise-ass gumshoe dialogue. It's got one or two non steamy PG sex scenes and some nice shots of the Oregon coastline. The whole thing feels like a direct to video 1980s B flick, not helped by a retro synth score from John Askew. Age difference fans note; as Lisa 50 year old Leilani Sarelle is nearly twenty years older than Sam Daly as Dylan.

Viral (US 2016: Dir Henry Joost, Ariel Shulman) This is a superb little movie, effectively combining horror with an interesting domestic drama. Set in a new Californian dream home estate (think Cuesta Verde in the 1982 version of Poltergeist) into which sisters Stacey and Emma have moved with their father, who was laid off from his original job and has secured a teaching position in a local high school. Elsewhere in the County a killer virus, originating in fly larvae, starts to infect the local community and the whole estate is placed under curfew. Stacey and Emma are left alone in the house, while their father is stranded at school. It's the small details in Viral that make it a cut above most films featuring 'infected' communities, and the big/little sister bond between Stacey and Emma is very believable. Director Henry Joost (2011's Paranormal Activity 3) balances the human drama with the horror elements perfectly - in many ways this is much more a film about relationships than it is about zombies, but manages to be pretty scary at times as well.

Bleed (US 2016: Dir Tripp Rhame) An embarrassment of riches is probably the best thing I can say about Bleed, a movie which throws in so many bits from other horror movies that it completely forgets to have an identity of its own. Sarah and her husband Matt move into a house in the woods, inviting their friends Bree and her boyfriend Dave. Sarah's errant brother Eric also turns up with his squeeze, the very flaky Skye. Eric and Skye have a bit of a ghost hunting thing going on, and when they learn that infamous local killer Kane, who was part of a satanic cult, was killed in a local and now abandoned prison, the group set out to investigate. Their snooping around causes the unleashing of a supernatural entity, hellbent on carrying out an ancient ritual sacrifice with our gang as the intended victims. This one is quite literally all over the place, with by-the-numbers characterisation, backwoods extras and a lot of running about in the woods. Admittedly some of the supernatural action is quite well-staged, but it's slightly ruined by a clubby soundtrack which just doesn't work against what we're seeing. Bonus points for a non-PG13 ending, but generally not that great.

I Am Not a Serial Killer (Ireland/UK 2016: Dir Billy O'Brien) Director O'Brien was responsible for the impressive farmland creature feature Isolation back in 2005, and 2014's military sci-fi flick The Hybrid aka Scintilla, which also had its moments. IANaSK is quite a change of pace, a seriously slow burn small town USA thriller. "Animal cruelty predicts violent behaviour, but until I read that I didn't think it was wrong." This comes from John Wayne Cleaver (excellently played by Max Records), a sociopathic young man whose mum runs the town mortuary, whom he assists with autopsies - credentials that don't exactly help him fit in at school. When a series of murders take place, John relieves his boredom by turning amateur sleuth - after all, what better person to catch a killer than one with the same impulses, albeit not acted upon? Chief suspect is old man Crowley (brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd, who is lining his pension pot with a string of grizzled support roles these days). But is he really the killer? IANaSK is based on a young adult novel by Dan Wells, and positions itself both for that market and also a more adult one. From time to time this attempt at cross sectional appeal makes for a rather uneven tone (the first half is arguably more successful than the second), but this is a minor gripe - it's both a coming of age tale and mumblecore thriller that contains a rich vein of dark humour, and uses its small town Minnesota settings to great effect.

Worry Dolls aka The Devil's Dolls (US 2016: Dir Padraig Reynolds) The story of a set of cursed 'worry dolls' (a traditional native doll which is used by people to share their problems) imbued with all sorts of badness by a serial killer. When the dolls fall into more innocent hands, disseminated by a little girl who makes them into craft jewellery for sale, they inspire the new owners to similarly murderous acts. Reynolds' previous feature was 2011's Rites of Spring, which was a similarly intense and occasionally torture-porn ridden offering. Like that film Worry Dolls is low on plot and high on atmospherics, although once the evil is alive and well the action is reduced to a lot of running around in darkened rooms, offering little suspense or terror. While its final shot suggests the possibility of a sequel I'm pretty sure every aspect of this rather slim premise has been effectively investigated in the movie's hour and a half. It's an attempt to do something different, but only passably successful.

Darkest Day (UK 2015: Dir Dan Rickard) I missed this 'virus creates zombies' film when it came out last year so have only now had a chance to see it. The cover art rather over promises the content of a film that reportedly cost £1000 to make by Rickard and a group of his mates in and around the seaside town of Brighton. So, does the world need an unofficial remake of 28 Days Later? Probably not, but don't write off this amateur hour offering quite yet - there are some interesting things going on here. Rickard plays Dan, one of a small group of survivors who hole up in their Brighton home after a virus turns the rest of the resort population into rampaging zombies. They also have to cope with the arrival of the trigger-happy military who have been drafted in to tackle the situation. The cast are largely non actors with most of the lines improvised. This actually works in the film's favour - indeed the bickering among the group feels extremely real to anyone who's had to endure student house shares at any point in their life. Rickard stops the movie feeling like just another flick shot on a phone by inventive use of model work and post production wizardry which multiplies the small cast of soldiers to almost garrison proportions. Interestingly this is a film that finds its feet as it unfolds. By the end the viewer quite forgets its micro-budget origins - some deft photography and sharp editing make for a really exciting finish, as the group develop from frightened individuals to an organised band of zombie killers, without sacrificing their basic studentness. "Can we go to the pub now?" asks one of them after a particularly gruelling battle with the 'infected'. Yep, go on, you've all earned it.

The Darkness (US 2016: Dir Greg McLean) Well what's happened here then? Not even the combined acting talents of Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell can save this one. And yes that is the same Greg McLean who gave us Wolf Creek (2005), Wolf Creek 2 (2013) and the splendid Rogue (2007). While barbecuing in the Grand Canyon (as you do), Michael, the autistic son of Peter Taylor (Bacon) finds some curiously etched stones which he brings back with him, unbeknownst to his dad and mum Bronny (Mitchell). It turns out that the theft has triggered the resurrection of elemental spirits, trapped in the stones and guarded by an native indian race. The spirits take the form of things like snakes, dogs and a tortoise (one of these is in fact not true, but it would have been good) and proceed to stalk the family, bringing on 'The Darkness' of the title. But because we're in PG-13 horror land, nothing horrific happens. In a hilarious bit of cod internet research, the truth about the origin of the manifestations is revealed, as the family (who of course have a variety of issue-of-the-week problems including reformed alcoholism, bulimia and philandering) gradually meltdown. A mystic is brought in to help the family, and despite knowing everything about 'The Darkness' fails to tell the family that they've probably taken something that doesn't belong to them and that replacing the stones will make it all stop - I suppose that would have denied the audience the final reel faux Poltergeist lightshow, but by then it's all too little too late. The leaden script and desultory performances complete the overall classification of 'clunker' but, seriously, why McLean, why? Next year's Wolf Creek 3 better be good, that's all I can say.

The Remains (US 2016: Dir Thomas Della Bella) Slightly stretching the PG-13 template (a bit more swearing and some mild gore, not to mention some dodgy makeup) doesn't make this haunted house movie any less wearing. Recently widowed dad John moves his family (stroppy screamo-fan teenage daughter Izzy and younger siblings Aiden and Victoria) into a rambling house to make a new start. What they don't know is that back in the 1880s the premises were originally used as a seance parlour; one particular session, held to locate a missing girl, resulted in a death - and whatever entity caused the fatality lives on in the house. Shortly after moving in the property starts behaving oddly. Doors slam, furniture left in the house seems to have a mind of its own, an old gramophone plays by itself, there's a weird dolls' house on the first floor landing - and this all starts to have an effect on the kids. A vision of the lost little girl, giving a suitably enigmatic warning, heralds the arrival of the spirit of Madame Addison, the mistress of seances, an all around demonic character with high speed Woman in Black style mobility talents and fright mask makeup. Will the family work out how to exorcise the demon presence? Who will survive? Who cares. This is truly laughable stuff, dull as ditch-water, full of supporting characters who drift in and out of the story with no real purpose except to dole out warnings to John that he fails to pick up on. Really rather awful.


  1. You've been busy as a deadly bee! Of this batch I've seen CELL and THE DARKNESS; the chance of me watching either of them again is 0.004%