Friday 24 July 2020

Supermarket Sweep #16 - Reviews of Infected (UK 2015), Brahms: The Boy II (USA/Canada 2020), Tooth Fairy (UK 2019), The Axiom (USA 2017), Polaroid (USA/Norway 2019) and Among the Shadows (USA 2019)

Infected aka Containment (UK 2015: Dir Neil McEnery-West) I can't possibly think why 4DigitalMedia would think to dust off this 2015 UK virus thriller and repackage it as a brand new movie, can you?

But I'm pleased they did (although pssst you can watch it free under its original title on Amazon Video), for this is a very accomplished, not to mention downbeat little film.

Divorced dad Mark (Lee Ross) wakes up a little worse for wear and late for his custody hearing. Through the wall he can hear his elderly alcoholic neighbour Enid (Sheila Benidorm Reid). But Mark is unable to leave his rather seedy flat. The windows are locked and the front door has been sealed. Outside people in orange hazmat suits are setting up a field hospital, and a message piped into the apartment complex advises people to remain calm, and claims that the crisis is a gas leak. Before long one of the flimsy walls in Mark's flat is punched through - it's his neighbour Sergei (a brilliantly psychopathic performance from Andrew Leung) who, with his mute brother Nicu (Gabriel Senior) has decided to take the law in his own hands. The group is joined by the calm, rational Sally (Louise Brealy) and her conspiracy theorist partner Aiden (Billy Postethwaite). Together this unlikely group must defend themselves against both the authorities and, worse, their neighbours.

The daft thing about the retitling of this movie also ruins one of the best things about it: there's no infection as such (unless it's supposed to be an ironic change). While the 'gas leak' story is clearly a cover, and the people in the hazmat suits are expecting causalities, there doesn't seem to be any virus. The real danger in the film is fear and panic, with people turning on themselves faced with a terrifying situation. McEnery-West's film is about as unformulaic as possible: there are no real set pieces, no final reel plot reveal, just a sense of dread and confusion. Indeed when the group manage to detain one of the suited people, Hazel (Pippa Nixon) she seems as confused as the residents, it being her first day on the job. The nearest comparison in overall bleakness and nihilism is probably Romero's The Crazies (1973) but the remote coastal location of the flats (it was filmed in Southampton) also gives the thing a Ballardian feel. Not perfect by any means, but a very intense watch, an top marks for being the director's first feature.

Brahms: The Boy II (USA/Canada 2020: Dir William Brent Bell) Brent Bell's 2016 movie The Boy certainly had its moments, but the announcement of a sequel was, if not inevitable, unsurprising. What is surprising is that The Boy II is a much better film than the first instalment.

Location wise we're back in that weird trying-to-be-the-UK-but-it's-really-Canada land, as the filmmakers try and pass off clearly non British locations as English country houses (once again the exteriors of Craigdarroch Castle, an impressive turreted Victorian pile in British Columbia, are utilised to good effect), but here it just heightens the oddness of the movie by being a little 'off.'

Recovering after a terrible home invasion which leaves mum Liza (Katie Holmes) traumatised and her son Jude (Christopher Convery) mute, dad Sean (Owain Yeoman) decides to pack the family off to a country retreat to put their lives back together. It doesn't take them long to realise that the house is in the grounds of the vast Heelshire family home (where the events of the last movie took place, although our family are unaware of this), and it takes Jude even less time to find the dummy Brahms - with one hand sticking out of an open grave - and bring the thing back home for mum to clean up. Jude and Brahms form a close bond and for a while the parents tolerate their son's obsession because it seems to be bringing him out of his shell. Groundsman Joe (Ralph Ineson) eventually spills the beans about what happened in the 'big house' and there's the usual two thirds point research footage while Liza and Sean work out the threat facing the family.

The Boy II, despite the very silly explanation for what's going on (which kind of runs counter to what happened in the first movie), does have a lovely sombre mood and, like the first film, builds tension without overdoing the jump shots. As dummies go Brahms is relatively creepy, and Liza's frequent PTSD flashbacks help to confuse the audience further as to what's real and what isn't.

Oh and BTW, did I see one Tom Cruise in the catering credits? Look out Katie, he's behind you!

Tooth Fairy (UK 2019: Dir Louisa Warren) Warren's previous genre movies have all revolved around a similar setup (and many have used the same farmyard location); a group of 'ordinary' people coming into contact with a creature borne of an ancient curse. I've been a bit harsh about her movies in the past and while Tooth Fairy has a lot of problems, it does at least improve on her other movies in terms of execution of action scenes, albeit within a very limited budget.

In a reasonably exciting 1983 prologue the mother of three kids does battle with a strange shapeshifting creature who goes by the name of  'Tooth' (and in its natural state is a figure in a black cloak wearing a Halloween mask), locks both the creature and herself in a farm outbuilding and sets fire to everything, with the kids witness to mum's death.

Their mother's sacrifice leaves lingering emotional scars on the three kids, who thirty years later have children of their own. Jen (Claudine-Helene Aumord) has two grown up daughters, Lane, who has since died and Carla (Claire-Maria Fox) who has custody of Lane's son Corey (Clayton Frake) and who has a terrible relationship with her now alcoholic mother. Now I have to mention here that in getting to know the characters it's necessary to overcome some rather splendid miscasting: Aumord is I'm guessing about the same age as Fox, yet they are supposed to be mother and daughter. Even worse is local cleric Father Ruben (Will Dodd) a sixty-something character whose role seems unspecific, being played by a twenty-something actor with a voice like Hugh Grant and a gait like Clive Dunn doing his old man shtick in 'Dad's Army.' Jen's brother Matt (James Ashton) has become devoutly religious but can show no emotional warmth to daughter Shannon (Mali Watkins) following the death of his wife Mora; and finally there's Layla (Eleanor Thomas), now a drug addict living in a caravan with an abusive partner and neglectful of her child (further casting issues; Layla was just a few years younger than Jen in the prologue, but she's played by someone who's about 20).

Into this soapy stew enters Joe (Manny Jai Montana), a black guy who was with Lane but got it on with Carla, and is the father of Corey (although Corey is not mixed race, prompting Joe's line that his son "doesn't look anything like me" - so that's alright then). While all this inter family tension is unravelling 'Tooth' has returned from the grave courtesy of a homeless man who has wandered onto the farm and sacrifices his teeth to the arisen creature, and the spiral of death begins again, thirty years on.

Things really only get moving in Tooth Fairy in the final fifteen minutes, which is pretty standard timing for low budget exploitation pictures to be fair. But rather like Warren's 'Scarecrow' movies, which follow the same narrative pattern, once the evil is awoken towards the start of the movie you wonder just what it's doing for the next hour? The shapeshifting nature of 'Tooth' is nicely done - the creature can appear in the form of whoever the victim has in their mind at the time, and some of the oral extractions are well handled; I also liked the generational curse aspect of the film. However, while this is a step up from Warren's previous genre films, it's still glacially paced, and the drama and the horror are in no way interlinked, so at times feel like two different films clashing with each other.

The Axiom (USA 2017: Dir Nicholas Woods) Choosing a sort of mash up of headscratchers The Ritual (2017), The Corridor (2010) and The Endless (2017) for a first feature is pretty ambitious, and the director at least deserves some recognition for attempting something slightly out of the ordinary.

A group of friends, led by brother and sister McKenzie (Hattie Smith) and Martin (Zac Titus) are arranging a visit to a National Forest in which their sister Marilyn has gone missing (which they know because of a journal left behind by her). However McKenzie thinks fit to remove certain pages from it before the trip begins, which spell out the dangers that lie ahead of them once they enter the place.

Along for the ride are Friends Darcy (Nicole Dambro), Edgar (Taylor Flowers) and awkward Brit Gerrik (Michael Peter Harrison). En route the group stop at the Forest office and encounter park ranger Leon (Kiwi William Kircher, just about disguising his New Zealand accent), who gives them some skinny on the area, tells them his wife went missing in there and asks them to retrieve her bracelet if they find it. Now at this point any normal people would be thanking everybody for their time, phoning the authorities and heading home, but no, these intrepid travellers saddle up and head into almost certain danger.

The first signs of weirdness involve one of the group briefly failing to be able to see any of the others; also Edgar gets sight of a ghostly female figure, which again only he can see (he later works out from looking at a photograph that it's ranger Leon's now late missus). But after an illicit woodlands liaison between Martin and Darcy - which ends with Martin hallucinating a creature that attacks her - things start to ramp up a little, and before we know it everyone is accusing everyone else and the knives come out. And then it gets really odd.

Woods pretty much chucks everything into this one, including a major plot development at almost the 90 minute mark, which for a 98 minute film takes quite some doing. Quite a lot of the ideas don't really work, and it feels like the director may be aware of this as he rather rushes from one idea to the next. The biggest problem I had with The Axiom is that I didn't believe a word of it. I can be quite plot gullible - I'm not one of these people that instinctively questions the motivations of the cast providing the movie as a whole feels coherent - but even I was throwing my hands up at some points. However, the movie has some great ideas; the movie's central premise about the existence of the 'axiom' even suggests sequels, or maybe a really interesting portmanteau movie. But this needed a lot more work to finesse the story and the pace. Pity, but good try.

Polaroid (USA/Norway 2019: Dir Lars Klevberg) You put snow in a movie? I'm putty in your hands. But even copious amounts of the white stuff couldn't save this one.

Quirky Bird (Kathryn Prescott), who works part time in a local antique shop, is given a 1970s era Polaroid camera, and because she's the outsider type, she even recognises the make. The thing about the camera is that it's haunted, and its USP (unique spooking point) is that whoever the camera photographs is doomed to meet an untimely end courtesy of the ghost in the machine.

Bird's friendship circle, who comprise the usual generic gaggle of disposable teens, one by one end up as photographic subject matter and, shortly afterwards, corpses. It's left to the last people standing to do the usual last reel detective work and uncover the story behind the spook, which involves a crazed teacher and a daughter with special educational needs.

TV regular Shauna MacDonald turns up as Bird's busy mum (dad is no more, which gives rise to a fairly pointless sub plot), Grace (Twin Peaks) Zabriskie is on hand as the crazy old lady who might just be the link to defeating the ghost, and Mitch Pileggi from The X Files is the Sheriff with a secret. Apart from that pretty much everybody else is less than 20 years old - or acts like it - and you really don't care what happens to any of them.

But here's the thing: Lars Klevberg - who made such a decent fist of last year's Childs Play reboot and developed this movie from a 2015 short film of the same name - knows what he's doing when he puts a film together. The snowy Nova Scotia locations look great and the movie bulges with atmosphere; some of the set pieces look pretty good too. It's just that the premise of a haunted camera is so patently ridiculous, plus the fact that nobody thinks to do what Bird finally does - chuck the damn thing in the river - and the cast take this way too seriously. A dud, but a nice looking one.

Among the Shadows (USA 2019: Dir Tiago Mesquita) While you're jonesing for an announcement about the development of 'Underworld 6', here's a crappy knock off from 2017 which takes all of the style and elan of those movies and flushes them down the toilet.

Among the Shadows is set in a post Brexit, post EU Belgium where a new European Federation has been set up, headed by Richard Sherman (Kristoffel Verdonck) assisted by his faithful wife Patricia (Lindsay Lohan...yeah I know). A supporter and protector of the presidency, Harry Goldstone, who is the uncle of Kristy Wolfe (Kate Beckinsale-alike Charlotte Beckett) has been murdered. Kristy and Harry are werewolves, as is Richard, although Patricia is a vampire. Patricia enlists Kristy, who is sniffing around for her uncle's murderers, to replace Harry in guarding the President's life. Woven within this basic plot are various elements including a posse of glowing eyed vamps who have a preponderance for attacking women joggers, telepathy, boardroom drama, an angry Scottish detective and a lot of footage shot in what I think is the Cimetière de Bruxelles.

A movie edited not so much by people as hedge trimmers, the movie is so confusing it feels like a bunch of random footage that someone was asked to patch up as best they could in post production. With the sound recorded on what sounds like one of the better dictaphones on the market, and a dizzying cast of various nationalities that enter and exit the stage with no regard for plot progression, Among the Shadows feels like a political thriller with added, and completely unnecessary fangs. Nobody in the credits will want this one on their CV, but particular sympathy lies with Lohan. Clearly someone employed for an afternoon's work and with no idea what's going on (on occasion it looks like she can be seen reading from cue cards), additional footage of the Patricia character is achieved by using a body double with different hair who keeps her face away from the camera and a voice that clearly isn't Lohan's. I was reminded of the chiropractor who doubled for the late Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood Jr's 1957 movie Plan 9 from Outer Space.

This is the 96th film I have reviewed in the 'Supermarket Sweep' strand, and I suppose I should feel blessed that this is the first time I have really struggled not to hit the off button of the DVD player before the end of the movie. Truly, truly putrid stuff and apparently it took $12 million to bring this to the screen.

No comments:

Post a Comment