Tuesday 15 May 2018

From the Archive: Reviews of 3 Dead Trick or Treaters (USA 2016), Beacon Point (USA 2016), Beyond the Grave (Brazil 2010/2015), Deep in the Wood (Italy 2015), The Dooms Chapel Horror (USA 2016) and LA Contagion (USA 2014)

A further selection of film reviews that either didn't make it 'to print' or are otherwise no longer available on line.

3 Dead Trick or Treaters (USA 2016: Dir Torin Langen) Director/producer/ writer/ cinematographer Langen specialises in ‘weird’ short films, so what better vehicle for him than to pull a number of them together as a ‘portmanteau’ movie? It’s a similar idea to his Late Night Double Feature released last year, although the angle here is that the whole film (and each of the segments within it) is completely without dialogue. It’s not silent though - there’s a music soundtrack, and the characters in each of the stories grunt, sigh and make all the usual human sounds - except speech. Admittedly this takes some getting used to. The framing device around which to wrap the stories (two of them are from Langen’s back catalogue of shorts – the rest were presumably made for the film) has a paperboy stumbling on the graves of three murdered trick or treaters; hence the rather awkward title. 

Each of the headstones has a piece of paper attached containing a short story, which leads us into the various Halloween based story segments: ‘Fondue’ featuring a young couple who trick or treat at a remote house and get more than they bargained for; ‘Malleus Maleficarum,’ where a sacrificial offering gets cold feet about his fate; ‘Stash’ which has a trick or treating gang needing more than candy to keep them going; and ‘Delivery’ where two cops are given a bung to find another use for the body at a crime scene.

The films are pretty slight, opener ‘Fondue’ being the weakest, but the film begins to pick up pace as successive segments get stronger and the viewer adjusts to the dialogue free approach.  So why no speech? It could just be a gimmick, but as most of the characters in the stories are couples or partners, I think Langen is also saying something about how people non verbally communicate.

Anyhow I quite liked 3 Dead Trick or Treaters. It’s a bold attempt to do something different, and Langen wisely keeps the movie short – about 75 minutes. My only comment would be that there’s not enough variety of locations – drab and miserable though they are – so the segments end up looking a bit indistinguishable.  Nice job though.

Beacon Point (USA 2016: Dir Eric Blue) I am, I must confess, an absolute sucker for films set in the woods. And when the forest looks as lush as the woodland featured in Beacon Point, my critical faculties are reduced further. No matter, for despite all the gorgeous foliage on display, this is a good film. Nothing particularly original happens, but it’s beautifully photographed, credibly acted, and keeps the viewer on their toes.

A group of hikers assemble at a trail point in the Appalachian mountains (although actually filmed in Georgia), all set for a 90 mile 10 day hike. Unfortunately the trail leader Drake, who was to escort them, has just been rumbled by his boss as he’s had some previous jail time, and is fired. Drake protests and in the ensuing struggle accidentally kills the boss. Drake then shuts up the office, complete with corpse, joins the hikers and makes like nothing’s happened.

The hikers are the usual group of strangers thrown together – city type Zoe (whose strange dreams presage what’s to come), Dan, a nerdy guy who’s made a mint but lost his wife to another man, and brothers Cheese and Brian. Led by an obviously unstable Drake on a trail that he seems to be making up as he goes along, the group encounter a strange totem pole deep in the woods. This is the catalyst for odd things to start happening, and before they know it they’re being spied on by unknown, possibly alien eyes, encountering dead bodies, and mistrusting each other.

The standout performance is Rae Olivier as resourceful Zoe, a character who makes the transition from ditz to heroine of the hour pretty convincingly, but all of the cast handle their roles well, with special mention for John Briddell as crazy ranger Drake.  

Beacon Point director Eric Blue has taken the time in his first full length feature to flesh out his characters well, although the events don’t make a lot of sense – is it sci fi, is it horror, is it a psychological thriller? It’s nevertheless a tense movie which uses its woodland locations to great effect and doesn’t take itself too seriously. 

Beyond the Grave aka Porto Dos Mortos (Brazil 2010/2015 Dir Davi de Oliviera Pinheiro) “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Any movie that opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche is probably not aiming for the drive in crowd, and Brazilian director de Oliveira Pinheiro – who also wrote and produced the film - certainly isn’t. Quite who he’s aiming to please though is the question. And beware – if you’re watching this one it’s best to arm yourself with a bit of plot beforehand, as the action on screen isn’t going to help you any. So here goes. 

There’s this taciturn officer called, er ‘Officer’ who’s on the track of a Fallen type shape shifting demon called 'The Dark Rider'. The only way that the audience knows that someone’s been taken over is a general air of meanness and rheumy glowing red eyes. Now the officer is tracking the demon across what I think is a post-apocalyptic landscape – there’s a DJ on the radio taking about ‘the final days’ – and there are also some particularly lethargic zombies hanging around too, although why they are the way they are isn’t really explained, but they’re linked to the demon. And that’s kind of it.

Beyond the Grave is best described as a Robert Rodriguez movie – say Once Upon a Time in Mexico – slowed right down to an almost funereal pace but with all the gun toting and sweatiness intact, to which is added a bit of laconic Lucio Fulci-style undead action. It’s bizarre, intense, pretty pointless, and very, very slow. Narratively it’s baffling – characters die, then come back to life (and not as zombies). After a while I sort of went with it and quite liked its sense of existential gloom.

Beyond the Grave (or to use its original Brazilian title Porto dos Mortos) was touring the festival circuits as early as 2010, but as Pinheiro funded 50% of the movie himself I guess he’s keen to recoup as much as he can for as many years as possible, hence its re-release. I think the best summary I can make of the movie is someone else’s – a ‘paranormal western.’

Deep in the Wood aka In fondo al bosco (Italy 2015: Dir Stefano Lodovichi) Despite the holiday setting and certain plot strands hinting at supernatural elements operating within the story, this Italian movie is in truth a rather dark but entirely secular thriller, atmospherically set in winter in a small village in the Dolomites, concerning the disappearance and reappearance of a small boy.

Tommi is a 4 year old who one night, in the middle of the annual Krampus celebrations (a seasonal festival where locals dress up as the legendary 'Christmas Devil’), goes missing. Five years later he is found, barely alive and with little memory of his past. The 9 year old Tommi is returned to his (now estranged) parents Linda and Manuel, but his mother Linda remains unconvinced that the boy in her care really is her son. A clearly traumatised Tommi struggles to be re-integrated with his family, while at the same time the village’s popularly held belief that the boy had actually been murdered by his alcoholic father Manuel (unconvicted following a trial but still under the shadow of suspicion) is overturned. Who then was responsible for Tommi’s disappearance, if indeed the boy in question is Tommi?

Deep in the Wood scores strongly on location and atmosphere. The claustrophobic wintry mountain village setting is perfect for reflecting the insularity of the village folk, all of who seem to live uneasily with each other. Teo Achille Caprio, as the 9 year old Tommi, delivers a creepy performance recalling Swann Nambotin as Victor in the 2012 French TV series The Returned. While overall Deep in the Wood has some gripping moments, unfortunately the story and eventual explanation strains credibility almost from the start. Would a mother, despite Linda’s obvious mental health issues, really not recognise her own son after a five year gap? From this point on I found the soap opera-esque plot machinations all rather convoluted. I also found it difficult to believe that the level of secrecy which is essential to the plot would have been sustainable in such a small community.

Perhaps more problematically, the film’s set up – the Krampus costumes, Tommi’s eerie quietness and bouts of violence - strongly suggest that the story behind the disappearance and re-appearance was to have a much less prosaic explanation than the one eventually offered up – ingenious as it is, it comes across as a disappointment and reflects poorly on the whole movie.

The Dooms Chapel Horror (USA 2016: Dir John William Holt) A great although rather exploitation-style movie title for what is quite a subtle film, although it can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a character study or creature feature.

Kyle returns to his Kentucky home town after an 11 year absence with girlfriend Mandy in tow. He left as a small boy, blamed for being neglectful of his farm duties which resulted in the death of his brother Ryan in a threshing accident. On returning he is still vilified by the locals who clearly have very long memories.

The setting for the movie is rural – rotting cars, poorly maintained housing, and swathes of long term unemployed men shooting pool and looking mean; very similar to Debra Granik’s 2010 movie Winter’s Bone or indeed last year’s Oscar hopeful Hell or High Water then. Kyle and Mandy bring their film making friend Tanner with them to document Kyle’s search for the truth. For Kyle means to protest his innocence and find out what really happened to Ryan, and hooks himself up with a body camera to film his conversations with the locals. What he uncovers (a weird cult and a strange beast in the woods) brings a change of pace from slow build up to final reel explosion of violence.

The Dooms Chapel Horror combines faux documentary footage and first person hand held filming to create a mix of styles which help to build up the story. While it’s all cleverly done, the creature elements jar somewhat, and there’s a generally laconic air to the proceedings which makes it a bit of a tedious watch at times. Hats (or should that be Stetsons) off to first time feature director John William Holt for trying something that isn’t just a load of kids running around in the woods, but ultimately this is an interesting movie rather than a very good one.

LA Contagion aka Killer Party aka The Shower (USA 2014: Dir Alex Drummond) Wow, way to go through the naming wringer! Dating back from 2013, this comedy, about a baby shower party that turns into a fight for survival against a group of ‘infected’ neighbours, is equal parts US TV show Modern Family and The Crazies.

The various couples at the party are introduced to us via title cards, and some attempt is made to establish the characters, who are mainly actors and writers in ‘the business’ (the hostess is a theatrical agent). The standouts in this motley crew are waspish party organiser Joanne (Suzanne Sena) and her put upon assistant Beth (Stephanie Tobey), a clown hired for the party (Tony Rego, who’s much funnier after he becomes ‘infected’ – I think that’s the point) and wannabe Republican candidate Zach (Paul Natonek), who speaks entirely in political platitudes.

The ‘infected’ aren’t zombies as such (in fact it’s often quite hard to tell them apart from the uninfected) and we don’t really know why they have turned, but once the carnage begins, it’s clear that director Alex Drummond  has seen Shaun of the Dead more than once or twice. Not much happens from this point on, and there’s a lot of talking. The assembled guests and their kids gradually run out of food as they continue to hole up in the house and battle the one or two ‘infected’ that make it over the threshold, necessitating a foraging trip to a neighbour’s house to plunder their cupboards. The body count is high and the gore is Pythonesque and ludicrous (an ‘infected’ little girl is clearly laughing as she’s filmed eating entrails).

This isn’t a great film. It would have made a smart short feature but too little happens and there are simply too many cast members with nothing to do, who just snark at each other. I like the suburban look of the thing though and the clown character raises some chuckles due to his ineptitude – I laughed when, after a night of action, the cast survey a garden full of badly made balloon animals, and one character remarks drolly “the clown was busy last night.”

No comments:

Post a Comment