Wednesday 2 November 2016

New Films Round Up #3 - Reviews of The Faith of Anna Waters aka The Offering (Singapore/USA 2016), Ghost Team (USA 2016), Tell Me How I Die (USA 2016), Lair of the Beast aka Chupacabra Territory (USA 2016), The Boy (Canada/USA 2016) and The Hatching (UK 2016)

The Faith of Anna Waters aka The Offering (Singapore/USA 2016: Dir Kelvin Tong) "Leviathan is using the internet to rebuild the Tower of Babel" declares one of the cast about half way through this daft blend of The Exorcist, The Da Vinci Code and every other urban haunting movie you've ever seen. The quote pretty much summarises the plot too, which revolves around saucer-eyed Jamie Waters, summoned to Singapore following the suicide of her sister Anna. Jamie doesn't believe her sibling is capable of such an act and stays on to super-sleuth her way to the truth, which involves objects moving, shadowy shapes, and a string of deaths suggesting her sister's demise was part of an overall plan by a demonic force with surprisingly good IT skills.

Primarily a Singapore movie with some US cash, the western cast suggests a remake of an Asian spook flick but no, this is an all original movie which actually is anything but. It's the kind of flick where a character tries to work out an anagrammatic string of letters really slowly, making the audience shout "FFS, it's L-e-v-i-a-t-h-a-n, it's not that difficult!" It might have had more impact had director Kelvin Tong not injected so many plot strands that the attempts to understand what's happening obscure any possibility of being scared or indeed anything but puzzled. As readers can see from past posts, I'm willing to give most stuff a go, but this was fairly painful.

Ghost Team (USA 2016: Dir Oliver Irving) Here's an amiable but not terribly funny indie comedy about a duo of gormless guys making an audition tape to apply for a vacancy on their favourite show, the fictional 'Ghost Getters.' Ambitious Louis suggests that as a location the pair check out a supposedly haunted barn, having been tipped off by the owner when he calls in at the copy shop where Louis works to order some 'No Trespassing' signs. His partner Stan, who has a lot of trouble staying awake and is the archetypal slob that's wandered out of an early Kevin Clark movie, tags along, his heart not really in it. The team are joined by perky fellow shop worker Ellie and jumped up store security guard Ross (Justin Long, a David Schwimmer for a new generation). The barn is staked out, there's a lot of goofing around, but then there's a Scooby Doo moment which provides a more prosaic explanation for the things that go bump in the night.

This movie's at its best when Louis and Stan are clowning around, slacker style. Long proves a bit too literal for comedy (a bit like Schwimmer freed from the comforts of the Ross Geller character) and there are long periods when nothing really happens, including laughs. The rest of the cast have a good comedy pedigree (Jon Heder as Louis, for example, was terrific in 2004's Napoleon Dynamite) but they're not helped by an uneven script. The whole thing is fairly unsuccessful, but not without the odd funny line.

Tell Me How I Die (USA 2016: Dir D.J.Viola)  A group of young people sign up for a drugs trial in a remote medical establishment, presided over by the mysterious Dr Jerrems. The drug's properties are to enhance memory, but uh oh! there's side effects. Principal casualty is the already half psychic Anna, who starts getting visions of her colleagues' deaths. And there's a killer among them who has the same abilities. Soon the kids are being picked off, as Anna battles to stay alive and keep one step ahead of the killer.

Generic is the name of the game here. All of the cast could have wandered in from a million similar 'I-Know-What-Your-Final-Destination-Is' movies. The film is consciously teen friendly and as a result increasingly bland, despite attempts to whip up some tension in a snowbound cat-and-mouse (more like mouse-and-slightly-bigger-mouse) finale. 107 minutes is a long time to spend in the company of this lot, and unleavened by any real gore, violence or rumpy pumpy to distract the viewer from the fact that not much is happening, it's quite a slog: this is clearly a first feature from director Viola, previously responsible for the MST 3000 style Elvira's Movie Macabre series and various music promos. And it shows.

Lair of the Beast aka Chupacabra Territory (USA 2016: Dir Matt McWilliams). Well what do you know, it's a good ol' found footage film. But wait - come back! It's quite good! Writer/ producer/director Matt McWilliams's first feature delivers a lot more than the average FF movie in terms of content, gore and, well, gratuitous sex scenes. Three young kids head out to the woods to capture footage of the infamous Chupacabra (a blood draining beast reportedly sighted throughout the Americas since 1995 - the name is translated as 'goat sucker'). For a FF movie, our three hunters, Amber, Joe and Morgan, are surprisingly engaging. Warned off by the park police the trio ignore the advice and steal onto the trails, meeting another party along the way. But it isn't long before we realise that the Chupacabra is real - various mountain animals are found gored, with their necks bitten and entrails removed (the classic kill sign of the 'Chupa'), a fate which soon extends to the humans. Some Chupa goo gets onto Morgan's arm, which gradually turns into a festering mess. More bizarre still is Amber, who seems to get a bit possessed and walks off into the woods to pleasure herself. What's going on? I don't know but it's all strangely watchable. The gore is well handled (although CGI blood splatters are very annoying) and as mentioned the nudity is completely gratuitous, harking back to the days of 1980s 'lost in the woods' movies that had to include at least one scene where a member of the female cast gets nekkid, as Joe Bob Briggs would once have said.

Ok this isn't brilliant, yes there is quite a lot of running around in the woods and there's the usual moments where you wonder exactly who's doing the filming, but McWilliams deserves some credit for adding more elements into his movie than you would expect (and arguably than he knows what to do with), and his leads at least give us enough personality that you care a bit about what happens to them. Cautious thumbs up then.   

The Boy (Canada/USA 2016: Dir William Brent Bell) This got a bit of a roasting from critics when it appeared in cinemas earlier this year. I have to confess to liking it (well the first two thirds anyway). It's very moody and Lauren Cohan does an extremely good job at conveying a gentle and increasing unhingedness as Greta, an American nanny in England appointed to look after a dummy named Brahms. Brahms' parents of course treat the dummy as if it was a real person, introducing Greta to a strict regime of dressing and teaching the 'child' which the nanny is expected to comply with even after the couple disappear on holiday. Strange things begin to happen, with the seemingly inanimate Brahms shifting position when Greta's not looking. Is he real after all or is Greta losing her mind?

Local delivery guy and wet dishcloth Malcolm forms an attachment to Greta, who's in the UK to escape her violent ex Cole. Of course Cole turns up, and this viewer (wrongly) guessed that maybe there was a plot between Cole and Malcolm to drive Greta bonkers. The truth is sadly quite different, and disappointingly takes the movie in a more formulaic direction in its closing stages. But for a while The Boy achieves a rather stately menacing feel. The camera prowls around the house (located in British Columbia rather than the UK) watching Greta go through her strange routines, 'observed' by the glacial porcelain face of the dummy. Cohan doesn't have anything to act against for much of the film so its to her credit that The Boy is quite creepy. With The Devil Inside (2012) and Wer (2013) director William Brent Bell seems to be establishing a well made schlock career similar to Jaume Collet-Sera, whose 2009 film Orphan this film resembles in tone.

The Hatching (UK 2016: Dir Michael Anderson) Oh now this is a terrible film. Actually a 2014 movie only just now getting a release, and the delay is completely understandable - another ten years would have suited me fine. The Hatching is the story of Tim, who returns to his home village in Somerset after the death of his father where, as a child, he broke into the local zoo with some other kids to steal some crocodile eggs. The prank went wrong and one of his friends was fatally gored by a Crocodile. Seems that the eggs made it out though as there's a wild crocodile on the loose in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor. And as if that's not bad enough, local girls are going missing, supposedly at the hands of a serial killer. Who is it? There are so many choices, but our money's on the local butcher who lingers too long over the bloody carcasses in his shop.

Supposedly a comedy horror, The Hatching is neither funny nor frightening. It's certainly odd, but not in a good way. Further hindered by almost glacial pacing, the story features characters with no definition who seem at times to be on the verge of corpsing on camera. And don't get me started about the ludicrous fake crocodile. The cast features various TV 'stars' (Tim is played by television regular Andrew Lee Potts - looking considerably younger than his near 40 years - and Lucy by familiar small screen face Laura Aikman) and not very funnyman Justin Lee Collins is on hand doing what he does best - being a bit of a tool with a west country accent. Worse still, Thomas Turgoose, whose career seems to have stalled since his triumphant turn as Shaun in Shane Meadows' This is England saga, plays the Caesar the butcher, a role in which he looks distinctly uncomfortable. One entry on imdb, from a cast member, suggests that the film was originally targeted at the 15-25 group - presumably that's an IQ reference. Truly awful.

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