Vic’s Review – “Monsters: Dark Continent” (2015)

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What’s it About?

Ten years on from the events of Monsters, and the ‘Infected Zones’ have now spread worldwide. In the Middle East a new insurgency has begun.

Monsters: Dark Continent”

Directed by Tom Green

By Vic

Put a Bullet in a Monster. That was supposed be our war. Better know your enemy.”

In 2010, Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) directed a small, indie sci-fi sleeper for roughly 15 million named “Monsters.” It was a low key and sparse creature feature where Edwards decides to tell a story that is more about the characters and their development, than say, the monsters themselves. Using his minimal budget really well, Edwards successfully makes “Monsters” look and sound way more bigger than it could have been afforded to be. Using an exotic local and shooting in a docu-cinema verite style, the movie had less a feel of a true and visceral monster movie and more like a type of art house fare with a unique back-story.

In this light and regard, it worked for many and the movie has become a bit of a cult hit on the home video market and the movie has garnered a pretty solid rep for it’s inventive-ness and minimalism. In “Monsters,” Edwards made a romantic and interesting film about exploration and immigration using the alien monsters, on earth, as a bizarre backdrop to tell his story. If nothing else, “Monsters” claims to be an incidental affair using octopi alien nasties as an after-thought in the proceedings.

Well, it’s 2015 and Vertigo Pictures along with director Tom Green (Misfits, Blackout) with producer Scoot McNairy (who starred in the first film) and Executive Producer Edwards, bring us “Monsters: Dark Continent” which takes place 10 years after the events in the first film. The movie sets up efficiently, that the infected zones are now spread out all over the world and especially in the Middle East as a result, a band of insurgents have started to cause some trouble and despite a band of soldiers being dispatched to take care of them, there are also monsters in the area to thwart the mission as well.

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The insane task, which is a bit of a stretch to wrap one’s head around, falls to a group of professionals (so we think) from Detroit. The film’s beginning establishes a narrative from Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley), who describes how bombing the monsters abroad has created so many rebels and that they get in the way of eliminating the monsters. He discusses, as we see a lone figure about to assassinate an insurgent, Sgt. Frater (Johnny Harris), Years: 17 Tours: 8, who he calls a “Lion.”

This little bit of intrigue and introduction is an appropriate set up for Green’s film which, from the onset, feels like a political war drama peppered with signs of a monster flick only hinted at with quick cuts of them. This begins the title opening sequence, which feels dropped in from “Word War Z,” for “Monsters: Dark Continent” which is a film split into weary and overdone halves leaving no room for imagination and genuine emotional relevance.

We get the intros back to back to back of those who are about to be recruited into the battle against the insurgents in the middle east. The interactions between them all, with Keeley’s voice over always cutting in, are stilted and uninteresting (there is also the use of the Years and Tours card that shows up with each character introduced trying to make this feel as if it is some high concept docu-drama). So, director Green, wants us to feel for the characters, with introspection (managing to say that Detroit is a fucked up place to live and getting out is the only option) about morally and sociologically issues that plague the soon to transferred soldiers.

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So, after an illegal pit bull vs baby monster fight, the crew decide to party hard with hookers and drugs. Yeah, that is so original, no? Green’s film kicks into gear with an intro to a herd of the giant monsters as they fly over the desert in a chopper. They get briefed on their mission (as part of Team Tiger Shark), get into fisticuffs and after they are humiliated and told they will encounter monsters, they head out on their mission (not before Green delivers what is meant to be a resonant “soldiers interacting with kids” sequence).

What they do encounter out there is harrowing, disastrous and full of the insanities brought upon by war and battle. Parkes and Harris, who suffers from a breakdown and PTSD, are left to their own devices after the many patrols, snipers and encounters with the monsters and armed locals meet with insurmountable bloody opposition and death. Green puts Team Tiger Shark through it’s paces and it is a raw and terrible experience that would better serve some other type of film.

Monsters: Dark Continent,” for all of it’s “war is hell” pomposity, looks nice and serves up a very heavy dose of realism, which just never gels. What is meant to be a life changing story for the angry and rebellious youths that make up Team Tiger Shark, turns into hokey war and terrorism preaching meant to engage us but this isn’t “Homeland” and Green should have really decided which direction to let this story unfold. Green does occasionally thrill us with some cool monster action, much later, done with night vision, once again, going for that realism but ends up being a sort of “Cloverfield” – like tactic. What I did like is how Frater chews out the soldiers for their inexperience and carelessness. Harris, by far, is the one capable actor to watch here and he carries the weight through-out much of the film

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The film continues this way for most of it’s running time, blending cliché after cliché (yelling, screaming, arguing, running, shooting and what have you) with patches of monster mayhem that is just average and not all that impressive. Frater’s descent into madness is a small ray of light and it feels as if it belongs to another movie, somehow (A call to his daughter is a very moving scene before we get that annoying VO by Parkes again). Green shows us that Parkes and Frater are indeed the only ones in this film that change and the monsters are relegated, once again, to the back burner, proving that little imagination is thrown into the story. How would “Cloverfield” have been if the monster just walked around destroying Manhattan and it only was occasionally seen while the film concentrated on a going away party for 90 minutes?

Despite some dynamics of the human condition being explored and the monsters looking pretty cool, when they do appear, the movie doesn’t communicate past the stilted war cliches. Less resonate is how the movie can be actually called a monster movie. It may have well been a flick about a safari with how little the creatures are shown. There is war gore and battles and roadside bombs that echo the better action seen in “Battle: Los Angeles” but it does not remain very memorable.

The film has a gritty and saturated palette and sometimes the quiet score serves the scenes which was refreshing for a film with so much going on in it. Ultimately, the film, with it’s “we are the monsters, not them” mentality, is redundant and frustrating but the last act certainly finds it’s footing but by then I had really lost interest and found myself wanting to watch “Godzilla” instead. The film made me literally tired (it becomes a type of road movie for Parkes and Frater) and desperately hoping for a change in tone. It’s hard to reconcile how the first film, while no masterpiece, actually galvanized this one and by the film’s end I had a bad taste left in my mouth (there is actually a poignant scene in a desert village involving a monster and it’s dead offspring that was impressive).

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Monsters: Dark Continent” will suffice, if it is a Matinee watch or a late Saturday time waster but just barely. It reeks of a wannabe Bigelow or Ridley Scott war flick with some ugly squiddy beasties from outer space thrown in. It gets so heavy handed by the last act and has nowhere to go to redeem itself. Too bad because an amalgam of the 2 genres could really work if done right. The monsters, when on screen, are kick ass to watch lumbering around like the strange creatures in Darabont’s “The Mist,” but those scenes are teases and barely really effective. Watch “Battle: Los Angeles” instead if you need that particular fix for a contemporary military vs monsters movie. Make sure you temper your expectations with this one, gang.

Stanley Kubrick Inspired Artwork: Gallery Two

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Here is Gallery Two of some Stanley Kubrick inspired Posters and Art I have come across recently on www.deviantart.com I wanted to share some with you all.

Hope you enjoy them!

Vic

By Butaneko

By Butaneko

By Martin Woutisseth

By Martin Woutisseth

By Traumatron

By Traumatron

By Kleju

By Kleju

By Martin Woutisseth.

By Martin Woutisseth.

By Kyle Lambert

By Kyle Lambert

By James Jean

By James Jean

By SC4RF4C3

By SC4RF4C3

EYES WIDE SHUT TRAILER

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY TRAILER

THE SHINING TRAILER

Vic’s Review – “Exists” (2014)

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What’s it About?

A group of friends who venture into the remote Texas woods for a party weekend find themselves stalked by Bigfoot.

Exists”

Directed by Eduardo Sánchez

By Vic

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “A group of people walk into the woods…”

By the time I finally got around to watching “Exists,” I had already seen and reviewed a few other Bigfoot films which included, “The Lost Coast Tapes,” recently “Animal” and the surprisingly effective “Willow Creek” from Bobcat Goldthwaite. Both of those films were shot in a POV, docu-style, trying to pass off as found footage. Ultimately, there are many more of these films out in the ether, especially on Netflix, that have saturated the sub-genre of the bigfoot / found footage flick (sometimes I wonder if that should even be a subgenre). Most are assuredly pretty bad, others passable only in the “so bad it’s good” way. Those are the ones that are tailor made for viewers that love a tongue in cheek and guilty pleasure, here and there, similar to how those brilliant “Sharknado” movies made us feel.

Exists,” directed by Eduardo Sanchez (Altered and Lovely Molly), who brought us the grand-daddy of the found footage film, “The Blair Witch Project,” falls somewhere in the middle of that paradigm that juggles, quite unsuccessfully, all of the cliches and tropes, with genuine fright, fear and suspense. I ask: Why are we made to endure these movies? We know, almost immediately and going in, that these movies will no doubt disappoint but we check them out anyone. Well, I probably cannot offer any real distinctive answer. Too many variables there for me to make an assumption. The reason I watched, honestly, is that I love films and documentaries about Cryptos. I know many think it’s all bunk and hokey and somewhat cuckoo but I enjoy the various interpretations of how these monsters are projected in a movie or TV Doc.

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Despite Sanchez’ affinity for found footage (he also delivered “The Ride in the Park” segment for V/H/S 2), I found that “Exists” may have been better realized as a straight forward narrative. I am going to put my head on the chopping block for this, but, these FF films just don’t really cut it anymore. I may be making a generalization but “Exists” proves that all of the clever ideas in this genre have been executed and there is nothing really new under that sun. They are their own worst enemies because thay fall into and are defined by all of the tropes that never seem to come across as original or apparent. The same goes for the “film crew in a abandoned sanitarium” (the Grave Encounters films, not-withstanding) or house or mine or whatever, the list goes on and on.

Without going into too much of the story, since there is not too much of one, Sanchez starts us off with a band of young people, a pair of brothers, a horny couple and one brother’s girlfriend. They joke, frolic and tease each other on the way to a remote cabin in Texas, that belongs to the the Uncle of the brothers. On their way there, they hit something. They get out to investigate but only get scared off by noises in the woods. Now, at this point, the gang start making really dumb decisions and choices that are really annoying, typical and rote.

They do not cry out to see if they hit a human being, instead they cram right back into the car and continue driving. They get road-blocked by a fallen tree. Huh? A fallen tree?

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Then they brave walking the rest of the way to the cabin. Once they get there, they find the cabin (where we get a wild animal lurking about scare) in disrepair and decide that it is unfit to sleep in. So they go back to the car to sleep. Another, huh? The next day the gang all continue their vacations with some swimming, sex videotaping and BMX ramping into the lake. Then they go back to the cabin to stay. So, um, now the cabing is ok to sleep in, why? Because it’s daylight? Third, huh?

Things progress and start to get serious when one brother starts to hear and see things in the woods. Being the reliably stoned and intrepid videographer that he is, he sets up cams and starts to record everything. While, pissing off the others for various reasons, he manages to remain convinced that there is a creature lurking about. The rest all settle in at the cabin and then Sanchez continues with the classic, by now, very routine machinations. You’ll know what I mean if you decide to watch this movie.

Sanchez hits just about every found footage mark and if you a sucker for them, then this is right up your alley. There are obligatory cheap scares, the actual attack on the cabin and then the gang eventually gets seperated resulting in one brother riding off to get help on a bike. As he makes a run for it on his bicycle, with the reliable Go Pro-like POV in full effect, Sanchez gives us a nice taste of what he has in store for us and just in time, too.

The film remains a fast affair and goes by pretty efficiently clocking in at just under an hour and a half. So in this time constraint, Sanchez admirably ratchets the action in the last 15-20 minutes. Here, is where the film narrowly redeems itself but very briefly. After more obligatory chases, close calls (the gang even hide out in some cellar under the floor boards ala Evil Dead), freak outs and monster mayhem, Sanchez starts to make good on his ambitious little flick. He makes his Bigfoot a pretty scary bad ass and the creature, looking almost more neaderthal than, say, a gorilla or wookie, comes across as an intelligent entity with a purpose. The close ups that Sanchez provide of the menacing beast are chilling and effective, showing off some very good make up fx. The finale, which is pretty much an extended chase scene, is fierce and generally well done for the budget. Sanchez makes it feel much bigger than it really has any right to be.

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During a rescue of one of the brothers in a small and claustrophobic hole, Sanchez really adds a layer of tension that is palpable. His subsequent abandoned RV attack is also pretty well staged and helps to move the finale along ala Spielberg’s “The Lost World.” Even the Uncle arrives to save the day…sort of. Everything comes to a head and Sanchez wraps up all of the loose ends, explaining the truth of what the gang actually collided with on that dark road at night. Even the unconventional ending is brave and quite good for all of the trappings and universe that this film inhabits. Too bad that the mundane found footage / POV narrative (so much is illogical which makes you wonder why and how a character is always running a video camera) shows it’s seams and the movie only briefly gets it’s head above the muck to entertain.

Exists,” written by Jamie Nash (Altered, Lovely Molly), is a flick with noticeably bad and uninteresting cardboard characters, hokey and boring dialog, no self restraint and is a very predictable endeavor. For most of the running time, sans the quick and exciting finale, “Exists” is plain, generic and even the monster mayhem at the cabin is less likely to impress than what comes near the end when the group is left to their own devices in the woods.

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The finale is probably the best thing about the film and when the movie has such a short running time, it manages to get there quickly but I question just how many people, who may be fed up with this sub-genre already, will be willing to sit through the manipulations and repetitious gunk to get there. I lost count of how many times the camera falls to the ground and we are left watching something fall into the frame. Yawn. The movie, in my opinion does indeed suffer from “too little too late” unfortunately. Sanchez has some strong directing chops, like he proved with his unique “Altered” and he knows how to stage action but with his return to found footage / POV horror, he gets caught in that mire of convention that he himself created and finely tuned with the much more creepier and oblique “The Blair Witch Project”

Proceed with caution on this one, gang.

Vic’s Review – “Predestination” (2014)

Ethan Hawke as "the Bartender" in "Predestination"

Ethan Hawke as “The Bartender” in “Predestination”

What’s it About?

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

Predestination”

Directed by  Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

By Vic

Michael and Peter Spierig, who brought us “Daybreakers,” back in 2009, have presented to the sci-fi / drama community of film-goers an intelligent, earnest and very effective film in “Predestination.” It is a movie that has a million variables, since it deals with time travel, that trickiest of sci fi endeavors. But, at it’s core, the movie is very clear and very raw. It is a movie that will provoke debate, arguments and most assuredly some head scratching. I know, for sure, by the movie’s end, I was completely confused, confounded but thrilled by what I had just witnessed. Primarily because I knew that this wondrous little film definitely deserves a re-watch or 3, just to understand the sublime and submersive themes and romanticism.

Based on the story “All You Zombies,” by prolific science fiction author, Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) is an incredible mind screw of a movie that has no problem whatsoever forming the basis for all that occurs afterward with a simple little premise and set up, that at first seems a bit trite and hokey. This tale is so unlike the other types of stories by Heinlein, and even by the various types of time travel movies that try to be straight-forward and concise. No, “Predestination” is another animal all together. It makes you dig deep into your psyche and observe the Greek tragedy that unfolds visually before your eyes. The movie and story will, at times, test your patience but it will, without a doubt, make you think and open your mind.

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Now, there is very little in “Predestination,” in the way of starships, lasers, off planet battles and aliens taking over humans. It is almost the anti-thesis of all of that. Ethan Hawke (Daybreakers, Sinister) turns in a very low key and almost aloof performance as “The Bartender,” who is actually a sort of “Timecop” or “Time Fixer” who is in search of an elusive terrorist, who calls himself “The Fizzle Bomber.” Now, at this point, in the 1970’s, Hawke poses as a bartender to hunt down said bomber before he destroys all of New York City.

But, not before he is savagely burned (during a mission where he is overtaken) resulting in a long healing process where, along with repairing damaged vocals chords, had to endure a full facial graft as well. Since that, we never really assume that he looked and sounded different before the burns (we also never see his face in the prologue of the film) either. Like I said, many things will fall into place (well, some things) after the conclusion.

Now, to the meat of the story, while bartending, a young chain smoking individual (a magazine writer and columnist by trade) walks in and is challenged by Hawke (after first appearing a bit abrasive and angry) to tell him the best story he’s ever been told, since Hawke alludes to have “heard them all.” With a bottle of whiskey up at stake, the individual settles in with Hawke and tells a very strange tale indeed, for a while, over a game of billiards. What does follow are numerous flashbacks and a mystifying story that is so other-wordly, sometimes ridiculous and maybe even overly fantastical but within the creepy, unnerving and intriguing confines of the story, seems completely persuasive and probable.

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This film, also written by The Spierig Brothers is a masterfully multi-layered film and it could be very easy to write a long and detailed piece on all of the nuances and narratives, and there are many to dissect here, but what is important is that the actors propel the movie into a whole other level with such moving turns. The beautiful Sarah Snook (Jessabelle) gives such a wholesome, determined, confident and eager performance alongside of Hawke.

She balances all of the ambitious and numerous demands the role has. (She is almost unrecognizable at times, favoring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio) She emotes and projects with such vivid composure that at times she is quite scary and also quite sad. It provokes us into entering her world and mind and Snook does it with such believe-ability, professionalism and skill.

The film, though, is so many things and exposes so many ideals and scenarios that it is just dizzying. The flashbacks, paradoxes, different time periods (50’s, 60’s and 70’s and even the near future, are all on display here), the violence and complexities astounds the viewer and kicks you into a thought provoking landscape. The production is clean, bright and dark, precise but sometimes appropriately ugly and loathsome.

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Events that happen to the protagonists will undo and disgust some audiences who are looking for more rote antics. But, the movie never shies away and when confronted with the film’s transgender material, the movie stays true to form trying it’s best to open one’s mind by how the story is told and how it unfolds and connects in the end. This is a true strength for how The Spierig Brothers manage to balance it all.

Predestination” is a good looking film despite the lo-fi approach of the story. The visuals, design, music and look of the movie is very top notch and with all of this being said, the story is what matters here. The very astute performance of Hawke, who can appear to play any part, very well, is astonishing to watch. Some may think he seems to be sleepwalking in the role, but I would rather like to think that he is a weary temporal officer, that may have much more to his past and his identity, than what appears on the surface. It is a role where the sublime and morose approach may seem the best fit. Hawke manages to pull it off.

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But, please, watch this for Sarah Snook, if for no other reason. She is completely immersed in the performance. Her tale is the heart of the film and by it’s end and the worthy and trippy finale, you will be provoked into a myriad of emotions and feelings of confusion, empathy and repulsion, but these are the things that the movie sets out to be at it’s core. It will demand various viewings, just in order for the audience to grasp and dissect every little nook, subplot and crevice. The movie, surely, is a complicated and convoluted affair that can be demanding within that first watch but be patient, the movie has a killer twist and an elaborate wrap up that is quite cyclical, challenging and full of enough subtext to make Bergman proud.

Kudos to The Spierig Brothers for delivering a master stroke with “Predestination.” I could keep going on and on with this review and still would not begin to tap into all of the many facets of the human condition it explores. It is a film you may want to let sink in before the next re-watch. I can bet you that bottle of whiskey that you won’t see it the same way and come to the same conclusions the second time around.

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Highly recommended.


Netflix and Amazon Prime Streaming Alert / Recent Additions / March 2015

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Hi everyone! Vic here with another post with some of the latest and most recent additions to Netflix Streaming and Amazon Prime.

To take advantage of the High Definition selections, it helps to have High Speed Internet and an HDTV Smart TV or Hi Def Media Player or Device I.E. A PS3, WD Live TV Media Player, Roku or Apple TV.

I hope there is a Movie or two, on the list, that you may want to check out. Meanwhile, enjoy the selections and the some Trailers below.

Happy Streaming, gang!

NETFLIX -

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How to train your Dragon 2 (2014)

Force Majeure (2014)

Saw

Saw II

Saw III

Saw IV

W”

Third Rock from the Sun

Three Days of the Condor

Groundhog Day

ABC’s of Death 2

Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Houdini

Taxi Driver

Billy Madison

Donnie Brasco

The Alps from Above

Horns

Robocop (2014)

Mercy

Earth to Echo

Open Windows

Dragonheart 3

The Brothers Grimm

William A. Wellman’s Wings (1927)

The Interview

Johnny Dangerously

AMAZON PRIME – (Some titles were added earlier this year)

14.01.21-Instant

Robocop

The Captive

Snatch

Blood Ties

Lawrence of Arabia

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Obvious Child

Barefoot

Bosch

The Americans: Seasons 1 and 2

The White Queen

Downton Abbey: Season 4

Orphan Black: Season 2

Transparent

Justified: Season 5

Vikings: Season 2

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Hope you all found a few engaging Movies or Shows to watch and enjoy! Thank you all for stopping in.

Unitl next time,

Keep on Streaming !

- Vic

Vic’s Review – “Lost Hearts” (1973)

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What’s it About?

A young orphan, Stephen, is sent to go and live with his strange, much older cousin at his remote country house. Once there, Stephen experiences terrible dreams in which he sees a missing young girl and boy

Lost Hearts”

Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark

By Vic

The uniquely incomparable and influential short story writer, Montague Rhodes James (Oh, Whistle and I will come to you, my Lad, The Ash Tree, Number 13 and A Warning to the Curious) published a collection of ghostly short stories called “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” in 1904 (Before that he published in magazines). James was also a prominent Medieval historian and his unique ghost stories are written in a very fascinating and ethereal manner. It was James’ intention to provide spooky tales of characters living quiet, routine driven, urbane and uneventful lives. The trick being that they are interrupted by supernatural events during which the protagonist must endure, survive or solve these events.

In 1968, Jonathan Miller adapted the renowned short by James called “Oh, whistle and I will come to you, my Lad” (You can read my review HERE) for the BBC as part of their “Omnibus” collection of shorts. After the success of the short, the BBC decided to further adapt stories by James as an annual “Ghost Story for Christmas” production. Since 1968 many more stories by James would be produced. Some varied in length, of course, due to the length of each individual story.

A Ghost Story For Christmas: Lost Hearts

Lost Hearts” aired on Christmas Day in 1973 after another successful episode, named “A Warning to the Curious” and before the short “The Treasure of Abbot Thomas). The short was directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark (Jamaica Inn), who has an extensive British Television filmography. It was the 3rd episode to air from that first season. It was dramatised by Robin Chapman (Force 10 from Navarone) and is the shortest of the numerous adaptations.

As the short begins, we watch Young Stephen (Simon Gipps-Kent), our protagonist, in a horse and carriage coach, riding through the chilly English countryside. He appears to be somewhat uncomfortable and uneasy with the ride. Upon seeing two small children in a field, waving to him, Stephen’s spirits lift up somewhat, anticipating some fun and interaction to befall him eventually. Stephen, who is an orphan, is on his way to stay with his eccentric older cousin, Mr. Abney, played by Joseph O’ Conor (Oliver, Elizabeth).

Abney is quickly established to be a very kooky and idiosyncratic individual. He mutters to himself, recites Latin and Greek poetry and writes constantly in his small leatherbound book. Despite appearing peculiar, he is kind to Stephen upon his arrival. He asks his live in, servant duo of Parkes (James Mellor) and Mrs. Bunch (Susan Richards of Village of the Damned) to help Master Stephen get comfortable in the cavernous house.

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After he is settled in, he meets with the erratic and mystically obssessed Abney in his library. What follows is a queer exchange focusing on the upcoming birthday of Stephen. Stephen, feeling disconnected and confused, thinks nothing of the aberrant conversation, eager to explore the grounds. Abney lets him and while he does, he begins to see the same two children he saw earlier, playing in the fields. He chases them and also hears what sounds like guitar music. He thinks he sees one of the two children, a girl, climb up a tree. Stephen, after climbing, sees her closely and is frightened, resulting in his fall.

The movie, though being short, is simply effective, spinning a ghostly yarn in about the same amount of time it used to take Rod Serling to whip up an episode of The Twilight Zone. As things progress and Stephen’s birthday draws to a close, we begin to question Abney’s motive for caring for Stephen. He goes on and on about Stephen turning 12 and has a strange fascination with immortality and how one can achieve it. Meanwhile, Mrs Bunch spins her own yarns to Stephen.

She talks about 2 children. One a boy, the other a girl, that have gone missing and never turned up. Stephen listens but eventually the tales become to much for him to bear, especially when he thinks he is seeing the very same children that have gone missing or have they? Why are they appearing to him? Who are they really and what is their connection to his caregiver Abney and his servants.

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I just a small amount of time, Gordon Clark establishes such a forboding atmosphere, enough to fill 3 full length films, and he does it well. The short is creepy, standalone and very singular. The strange use of the musical instrument called the hurdy gurdy is un-nerving and unconventional. When ever one hears it, you come to expect something terrifying and irregular to take shape. Abney, while on the outside a charming old dude, hides a very menacing motive which involves the sacrificing of young children. The short successfully merges the innocence of children during traumatic times with the malevolent manipulations sparked by an older and evil adult.

M.R. James

M.R. James

The short can be both playful and other times fiendish. The very idea of Abney wishing them (and doing) harm to Stephen is a powerful thematic element. The children themselves, named Giovanni and Phoebe (who had some “Gypsy” in her), are presences of nightmarish proportions. They appear much like the most Romero-esque of phantoms with long and haunting finger nails along with vile and hellish faces. Gordon Clark and Chapman manage to tell a mystifying tale on film. Every aspect of the short, including the morality play, by James is explored and the short remains one of the more disturbing, moody and sinister episodes in the “Christmas Ghost Story” strand. It is quite thought provoking, as tales of children in harm and peril, usually are. It is also visually appealing and immensely creepy during the shadowy night time scenes, when Stephen is most vulnerable.

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Lost Hearts” is a grand M.R. James short, that raises the eyebrows and the hairs on our collective necks. To go with the ghoulish imagery, there is that damnable music from the hurdy gurdy. Not to mention an old man about to violate and manipulate a child at 12 am straight, during his birthday. But, with all of this going on, you can’t take your eyes off of it all, as those two grusome apparitions make their way to set things right. The claustrophobic short has much to tell and much to the credit of the writers and director, it is a ghastly but poetic slice of that spine tingling world that many M.R. James fans find so attractive and pulling. You will never look at a hurdy gurdy the same way again. Highly Recommended!

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SimonGippsKent

Vic’s Review – “Out of the Dark” (2015)

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What’s it About?

A couple and their daughter moves to Colombia to take over a family manufacturing plant, only to realize their new home is haunted.

Out of the Dark”

Directed by Lluís Quílez

By Vic

Out of the Dark” is the first full length feature film from Director Lluis Quilez. Quilez, throughout his career, has been predominately a second unit and AD, with a few shorts under his belt. The film, itself, a Spanish/American production, is a haunted house, ghost story as well as an eco thriller which takes place in the lush and tropical country of Colombia, South America.

Julia Stiles (The Omen, Bourne Supremacy), Stephen Rea (Interview with the Vampire) and Scott Speedman (Underworld) star as the movie’s three main protagonists. Sarah Harriman (Stiles) accepts a job position to become the CFO and GM of her father, Jordan’s (Rea), paper mill and factory, in Columbia. Accompanying her is her husband Paul(Speedman), who is an artist and their young daughter, Hannah, played the very cute Pixie Davies.

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Upon arriving and after a mysterious prologue, which involves a Doctor confronting and being dispatched by what appears to be some creepy and elusive phantoms, Sarah and her family settle into the company’s large and rustic home. During much of the films first act Jordan helps the family adjust to the strange customs of the mysterious and indigenous people of the town. Jordan takes them around, and while giving them the tour, discusses and speaks about a tragedy that occurred many years before, involving a church, a now buried temple and band of small children that lost their lives.

The movie then dives right into establishing the culture, legends, philosophy and myths that is entrenched in this unique South American region. During a company dinner, Sarah, Jordan and Paul overlook a ceremony that honors the memory of the lost children. Along with the oppressive woods that surround the large house, and shadowy figures milling about, it becomes the beginning of a chilling and eye opening experience that puts Sarah, Paul and especially little Hannah in grave and mortal danger.

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Out of the Dark,” is apparently, heavily influenced by the films of Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone) and even the singular Jaume Balaguero (Fragile, Darkness). The style, mood and heavy aerial texture are all here as well as the seemingly supernatural mystery that is at it’s heart. The film also relies, (successfully) heavily on it’s mystical, verdant and blossoming locale of Columbia. The overgrown, humid and hazy ambiguity is very present much to the credit of the film’s DP, Isaac Vila, who has a background in TV shows in Spanish. Unfortunately, what is missing in Quilez’ film is an engaging, unique and satisfying story.

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The haunted house/ghost mystery is one of my favorite horror sub-genres and despite the numerous films in that particular area, only few excel in actually frightening or spooking us. To it’s discredit, “Out of the Dark” comes up short in that matter. Stiles, while very strong (and then vulnerable) at first, just has nothing to really work with and that goes equally for Speedman and Rea.

They portray the anxious and terrified parents of a missing child (Davies is the one with the real acting chops, here)very capably but never really have any way to shine or surpass what is basically a routine and by the numbers spook script. Because of this, the performances are too, by the numbers.

The obligatory scares are rather cheap and cliché and, frustratingly, they never really amount to anything. Which is a pet peeve of mine, by the way. Scare for the sake of a scare. The said, ghost children (part of the legend involves them and the celebration is called “La Fiesta del los Ninos Santos”), while appearing menacing and awful, just really stand around breathing coarsely and never really appear spectral, until the every end. Other than that they also spend too much precious time running circles around Speedman, who sleepwalks his way though this film as in a hypnotic trance, playing the somber “working from home” Dad and struggling artist.

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But, it is not quite the casts’ fault since they have a bare-bone, predicable and repetitious mystery to become involved with and solve. What does not help either is the laborious and snail-like pace of the movie where we are hoping to see a more original fright jump than a reflection in a mirror or wet footprints on a bathroom floor. Quilez does take incredible advantage of the enigmatic and lush environment. He chooses to focus on the culture, sociology and ecology that will in turn affect the adults, and vaguely, the story.

A kind of mystery is at root beside the haunting of the Harrimans. Quilez instead, tries to push this dynamic but it never really solidifies or becomes relevant. We all can easily figure out things and we consistently are 2 to 3 steps ahead of our protagonists. The gravitas of the subject matter (which involves the Harriman paper mill and a connection to the children) and even the tropic surroundings are just not enough to jump start Speedman, Stiles and even Rea, into showing us what they’re made of in this genre. The story in places, is just too anemic and writer Javier Gullon is not able to sustain the needed elements to balance the main plot and it’s eco subplot.

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Out of the Dark” is a worthwhile film, if you are satisfied with how potentially good it may have been. The film surely looks amazing and the locale is hot, vivid and beautiful. The movie has the old world charm but no real substance to it’s core story. A legend and some big industry wrongdoing is not enough when you have the most banal types of scares and a story unfolding that a 7 year old can see coming a mile away.

The main cast is another reason to watch, but just barely. They interact well, emote appropriately, especially when it comes down to Hannah’s abduction. Rea is just fine with a very smooth and refined air of authority which is questioned in the last act of the film. And that’s about it, oh and little Pixie makes a great child in peril. She holds her own with everyone else. (Quilez’ exploration of the Harriman family dynamic isn’t too bad, either)

Ultimately, “Out of the Dark,” while looking nice and sustaining OK performances, cannot get off the ground. It’s to stuck in cheap fright, a slow and morose middle act and by the time the story and the “Poltergeist” type haunting comes to a head, one is going to look back and ask: “Did I miss something? Is this all there is?” Well, that is a good question and yes, that is all there is…

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“Out of the Dark” clocks in at an economic 90 minutes, so, I would consider greatly as a rental and if you must purchase it then shop around when the movie hits VOD, blu ray or dvd. Just don’t expect to be either wowed or particularly frightened. The most frightening thing about the film is just how slow and un-scary it really is.