Wednesday 26 October 2016

New Films Round Up #2 - Reviews of The Amityville Terror (US 2016), Evolution (France/Belgium/Spain 2015), The Possession Experiment (US 2016), They Look Like People (US 2015), Let's Be Evil (UK 2016) and The Evil in Us (Canada 2016)

The Amityville Terror (US 2016: Dir Michael Angelo) Any film with the word 'Amityville' in the title isn't headed anywhere near The Oscars, that much we all know, but it's certainly an inspiration for film makers. Last year we were treated to Amityville Death House and The Amityville Playhouse. In 2016 so far we've had The Amityville Legacy, Amityville: No Escape, Amityville: Vanishing Point and Amityville High. To which we add, completely unasked for, Michael Angelo's (no, I'm sure that's his real name) appalling The Amityville Terror.

Todd (Kaiwi Lyman-Merserau, whose credits include 'Surfer 2' in 2005's Frankenstein vs The Creature From Blood Cove) and Jessica (Kim Nielsen from this year's Zoombies and the accompanying video game 'Escape From the Zoombies'), together with daughter Hailey, up sticks and move in with Todd's fresh-out-of-rehab sister Shae (Amanda Barton from Dracula's Curse (2006) and the previous year's Frankenstein Reborn). Shae has rented a rambling house in the town of Amityville, hoping to make a new start, but the demonic spirits within have other ideas, gradually taking her over and causing a deadly threat to the rest of the household.

An unbelievably stupid film with a plot seemingly made up as the film progresses, the only remarkable thing in it (apart from a group of people who move into a house in Amityville with no knowledge of its history) is the inclusion of a load of nudity just as the movie watcher is convinced that this MUST be one of those anodyne cheapo cheapo made for Syfy offerings; watch for the scene where the evil estate agent dispenses advice to a co-worker mid, well you know, session. The demon make up is truly terrible, and the paucity of budget means that the final burning of the house (and just how many times has the Amityville house been razed to the ground in films?) is represented by some smoke and someone flashing a torch on and off. 

Evolution (France/Belgium/Spain 2015: Dir Lucile Hadzihalilovic) Ah, a return to arthouse monster movie making. A beautifully shot, glacially paced mood piece about a white-washed coastal village inhabited entirely by women and boys, focusing on young Nicolas (a great performance by Max Brebant) and his 'mother' (Julie-Marie Parmentier). Nicholas feels that all is not right at home. He thinks he sees a dead body on the beach, and witnesses his mum, together with the village's other women, indulging in strange seaside rituals. Along with the other boys Nicolas becomes sick and is confined to a sterile hospital, also staffed only by women who watch training videos showing how to perform Cesarean Sections. Nicolas is told his friends are being cured, but instead they go missing. Is his mother really who she makes out to be? Is she really a mother at all?

Very little is explained in Hadzihalilovic's serene nightmare. It's arguably too abstract to be truly gripping but there are enough bizarre scenes to hold the attention, with body horror elements suggested rather than over-emphasised, like watching a Bela Tarr movie filtered through early Cronenberg. The Lanzarote locations are both familiar and strange and the whole thing is decidedly odd. Cautiously recommended, and a film I'll certainly be watching again.

The Possession Experiment (US 2016: Dir Scott B. Hansen) Or 'Bill and Ted Go Ghost-hunting.' Scott B. Hansen's 2014 film Monumental was an above average road movie which featured some touching performances and beautiful photography. Two years on, The Possession Experiment couldn't be more different.

Brandon is a slightly strange, awkward high school student who hooks up with stoner classmate Clay to carry out an end of year assignment on exorcisms for their Religious Studies course. Clay's along for the ride while Brandon's the brains of the outfit - a relative term here. The goofy pair decide to investigate a twenty year old case of possession which was notorious because the footage of the exorcism survives as do two of the people involved. Tracing the house where it all took place, Brandon takes the rather severe step of holding a seance there in the hope of being possessed by the same spirit responsible for the original incident. Is he nuts? Yes indeed. Does it work? Uh huh.

Reading this synopsis I understand if you're tempted to roll your eyes and carry on to the next review. And indeed the film's prologue, featuring the 1994 exorcism, doesn't give you much hope of seeing anything new here. I was intrigued how Hansen's direction takes the movie from lark about stoner buddy flick to more sinister territory rather effortlessly, encouraged that surely some of Monumental's promise would filter through? But no, it's just a mess. Silly gore (a woman ripping her own jaw off) and clumsy pacing abound, and boy are you bored with Brandon and Clay by about the one hour point.

They Look Like People (US 2015: Dir Perry Blackshear) Here's a battle of the losers movie which spends nearly all its time in the company of Christian, a likable guy on the rebound, in love with Mara, the hire and fire HR manager at work, and long lost friend Wyatt, who Christian runs into on the street and persuades to move into his apartment. While Christian has a bit of a damaged past, Wyatt is the real deal, receiving strange phone calls from voices who tell him that humans are gradually being replaced by...well, it's not entirely clear.

A lot of They Look Like People is concerned with Christian's attempts to rediscover his friendship with the increasingly addled Wyatt, and the latter's preparations for an apocalyptic takeover of the world - is the conspiracy real or in his mind? There's some subtle laughs to be found in the duo's messing around, and Mara is a sweet character who's all-business sacking of Christian in an office shakeup suggests to us (and Wyatt) that she might just be a non-human. Perry Blackshear's debut feature is a slight, inconclusive movie which resists a big payoff, a bold move but one which left this reviewer feeling rather unsatisfied despite convincing performances from Evan Dumouchel and MacLeod Andrews as Christian and Wyatt.

Let's Be Evil (UK 2016: Dir Martin Owen) And you thought that Virtual Reality was killed off as a cinematic concept by 1992's execrable The Lawnmower Man? Think again - twenty odd years on the idea has now acquired some retro cache. Earlier this year UK director Charles Barker offered the VR shoot 'em up thrills of The Call Up. Now we have the inexplicably titled Let's Be Evil, in which a group of gifted children are chaperoned by three equally talented individuals in an underground facility which is actually a created VR environment looked after by the mysterious avatar called Ariel. This works out ok until the children start playing up and picking on Cassandra (the only one of the children who will engage with the adults), and the chaperones begin hallucinating.

Owen's budget doesn't allow for much detail in his rather scuzzy VR world - it's all out of date computer equipment and bulk rented neon lighting. I wondered if the British cast, who all sport US accents with varying degrees of success, would revert to natural tongues a la 1999's eXistenZ, but no, this just seems a way to sell the film across the channel. The key problem with Let's Be Evil is that it's just terribly boring. The character of Ariel, who carries the film's expository weight, is as engaging as a sat nav system from Argos. And the children, who could have been the real core of the film, are just a bunch of drama school poppets. Even Julian Scherle's soundtrack, very reminiscent of this year's Mr Robot series (which he also scored) and 2014's It Follows (which he didn't) soon starts to grate, suggesting as it does a level of sophistication which the film can't hope to match.

The Evil in Us (Canada 2016: Dir Jason William Lee) It took good old William Hurt a series of dunkings in an immersion tank and a night out on the peyote to find his inner beast in Ken Russell's 1980 movie Altered States. It takes a dodgy bag of cocaine to achieve the same effects in a matter of minutes in The Evil in Us - a sign of the march of disposable society I suppose.

Five friends meet up for a Fourth of July weekend, little knowing that one among them has become infected and will soon transform into a cannibalistic primal beast  - and then spread whatever he has to the others. Jason William Lee's film is basically 28 Days Later wrapped up in some weird science and a police procedural, the latter story strand singularly failing to find its feet. It takes a hell of a long time to get going, but when the beasts come out to play it certainly has its moments. The ending looks like it drifted in from another film altogether, with some extremely laughable make up and a political payoff that 'trumps' (and if you see it you'll know what I'm going on about) all the other storylines, and could lead you to read the movie's title in a slightly different way. A mediocre effort then but not without a sense of trying, even if it does feel like two or three separate films bolted together.

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