Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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“Sometimes I feel like this has been my whole life.”

We’d skipped the last two installments at the movies, having been burned by part three, but after the excellent content of #5, and since this was likely to be our last chance, Chris and I made it a “dinner and a movie” thing on Saturday. Was disturbed by how many kids there were for this R-rated film – hell, even a couple of babes in arms, whom I’m sure loved the non-stop violence. I guess it was deemed kid-friendly by their parents, with this one getting its MPAA rating just “for sequences of violence throughout,” rather than anything truly corrupting, such as momentary Milla mammarage. Cutely, the feature was preceded by a quick personal message from director and star, thanking us for their support of the series. Yeah, it’s utterly meaningless, but nice to be appreciated.

Onto the movie, which I think probably would have been better received by us as a stand-alone entry, if we hadn’t watched parts 1-5 last weekend. #QuickPlug: re-reviews of all those to follow later this week. For there seems to be an awful lot of ret-conning going on, in particular for the Red Queen, played here by Milla’s daugher, Ever. Not only is her origin story drastically revised from Apocalypse, there’s also a new, Robocop-esque rule that she can’t harm Umbrella employees. [I note that Anderson even lifts the same escape clause used by Verhoeven] Must be Red Queen v1.1, because all the workers at the Hive she killed in the original movie, didn’t seem to benefit from this protection…

The story sees Alice (Jovovich) returning to Raccoon City, seeking the airborne antidote she discovers – from of all people, the Red Queen, little Miss Laser Corridor herself – was created by Umbrella. If Alice can release it into the wild, it will take out all the T-virus infected. Which is a bit of a problem since, don’t forget, the list includes our heroine herself. Standing in her way is Dr. Isaacs (Glen), who has set his plan in motion to exterminate the last remaining pockets of humanity and complete his apocalyptic vision thing, along with a massive swarm of zombies he’s leading back to the Hive. On Alice’s side are a few of those final survivors, including Claire Redfield (Larter) and Abigail (Rose), adding extra girls-with-guns firepower – as if it were really necessary here.

The main problem is this: editor Doobie White really should lay off the caffeine. I don’t think it’s Anderson’s problem, as Retribution was perfectly fine in this area, but the hand-to-hand fights look like they were edited by putting them through a highly enthusiastic wood-chipper. They stay just about on this side of incoherent, but you don’t so much watch these, as experience them on a subliminal level. Maybe it’s a result of protagonists Jovovich and Glen being in their forties and mid-50’s respectively: I know if I was appearing in an action movie, you’d certainly have to edit the hell out of me to look good! But it’s still annoying as hell. The best sequence is when the camera sits back a bit and we can actually appreciate Alice, dangling from an underpass, as she beats up a posse of hapless Umbrella drones (below).

Due to this, the film is at is most effective in other areas, mostly when going wide and giving us a look at the bigger picture, specifically the sheer scope of the devastation and conflict. There’s a couple of scenes where I think the zombie count may have surpassed World War Z, and that volume is undeniably impressive. It requires, naturally, equally large-scale defense and the sequence where the humans create multiple waterfalls of fire is startling and striking. An an aside, I note the film cost only $40 million, which is $25m less than last time, and little more than the price-tag for the original, 15 years ago. Anderson is clearly great at getting bang per buck, and if the box-office reception was lukewarm in North America, the film has already almost made its cost back in Japan alone.

I also was glad to see Glen back, and just as in #3, he brings a human face to the evil corporation. [Yes, he died at the end of that one. No, it’s not a problem.] I envisage a long career for him, in the mode of Charles Dance and Alan Rickman, being the go-to guy whenever a film needs a solidly British villain. Here, he gets to show a couple of facets, both coldly calculating and manically psychotic, and is fun to watch in both. But, of course, it’s Milla’s show, and she also gets to do a bit more than you might expect: if you ever wondered what she’ll look like in her seventies, this movie will answer your question. Though going by how little she seems to have changed over the decade and a half of the series, if she looked exactly the same at that age, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Otherwise, she has become Alice, adopting a world-weary stare here, reminiscent of our cat when we annoy him. It seems to say, “I could get violent, but you’re just not worth the effort,” while she re-enacts some of the series’s greatest hits, such as the laser corridor, or a whole pack of zombie dogs (well, more dog-shaped things, to be honest). Is there closure for Alice? Yes, although not as much as I would have liked. The film had a chance to draw a line under itself in permanent marker, and allow Milla to go off into the happy suburban life her character briefly enjoyed in #5. Sadly, the script doesn’t quite have the courage to do that; let’s just say, if Mr. and Mrs. Anderson need an extra wing on the mansion the franchise’s profits has bought them, it won’t be impossible.

All told, if you’ve got this far in the series, you’re not likely to be disappointed, except by the over-active editing. If you haven’t, this is certainly not going to convince you of its merits. And that’s okay too.

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
Star: Milla Jovovich, Ian Glen, Ali Larter, Ruby Rose

The Resident Evil animated films

residentevilanimeThe Milla Jovovich series are not the only films set in the Resident Evil universe. There have also been two feature-length computer animated movies: Degeneration was released in 2008, and Damnation four years later. A third, Vendetta, is scheduled to be released in Japan this spring. While made in Japan, with a Japanese director and crew, the voice cast are English-speaking. As with the novels, the stories and characters are in line with the universe of the computer games, rather than the live-action features, and tend to occupy spots in the timeline between the entries in the game series. Therefore, there’s no Alice, but the animated films contain their fair share of strong heroines and, of course, action.

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Resident Evil: Degeneration

degenerationThere’s a new EvilCorp in town, and its name is WilPharma, as we learn during the montage of news stories which opens this. In game terms, the film takes place after the events of “Resident Evil 4”, which saw the dismantling of the Umbrella Corporation. Its assets and research naturally proved too valuable to destroy, and WilPharma has taken over, with the announced goal of developing a vaccine for the troublesome T-virus. However, some dubious medical research in India leads to the company being targeted by protestors from TerraSave. It’s one such demo, at the Harvardville Airport, that kicks things off, as a plane of infected subjects crashes into the terminal, where Senator Davis is trying to avoid the protestors. TerraSave’s Claire Redfield (Court) finds herself trapped with the Senator, before they’re rescued by a team of soldiers including Angela Miller (Bailey) and Leon S. Kennedy (Mercier).

Claire goes to the WiiPharma research facility, at the invitation of researcher Frederic Downing, and discovers they have the even more lethal G-virus being studied. There is… oh, dammit, let’s just call it “quite a lot more plot”, involving WiiPharma’s efforts to sell the virus as a bioweapon to General Grande; Angela’s brother, Curtis (Smith) an ecoterrorist who deliberately injects himself with the G-virus; and the true identity of the mastermind behind it all. It’s probably too much to be crammed into 98 minutes, especially when you also have to fit in copious amounts of action. The second half, in particular, is more or less one long action sequence, with Angela and Leon trying to survive in the facility. It’s a change of focus, since Redfield was the main protagonist during the first half, becoming the guardian of a friend’s child during the attack at the airport, maybe reflecting her switch to pacifism (albeit pacifism of an oddly bad-ass kind!).

Being CG, and of a 2008 vintage, the animation is good at doing what 2008-era CG was good at, which is movement rather than emotion – as you’d probably also expect from a film produced by a video-game studio. The sequences and shots where the camera is swooping in and around the battle participants, are sometimes spectacularly good, and in general, while in motion, this is effective and exciting. Beyond the technical, its problems are more a plot which lurches from frantic action set pieces to expository lumps, and seems to rely too much on viewers being familiar with the characters and creatures from the games. But it has to be said, WiiPharma certainly seem to have a better handle on the proper use of containment mechanisms than Umbrella ever managed…

Dir: Makoto Kamiya
Star: Alyson Court, Paul Mercier, Laura Bailey, Roger Craig Smith

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Resident Evil: Damnation

adawong-jpgIncluded here largely for completeness, since the action heroine content likely would fall a little short of qualification on its own. Not that it’s entirely lacking, as the video at the bottom shows. But it’s definitely more a vehicle for Leon S. Kennedy (Mercer/Dorman). Which brings me to one of the odd things here: that is not a typo, it’s a double-credit for the character, because two different actors played the role, one providing the voice, the other the source for the motion-captured animation. Not sure I’ve seen that before.

Anyway, Kennedy finds himself dumped into the middle of a former Warsaw Pact satellite nation, the Eastern Slav Republic, which is being torn apart by a struggle between Government forces, under President Svetlana Belikova (Lee/Lee), and rebel groups. Both sides are making use of B.O.W’s, Bio-Organic Weapons, which have now been developed to such an extent that humans can now mind-control some of the creatures, using a parasitic organism called Plaga – albeit not without some unpleasant effects. Meanwhile Ada Wong (Taylor/Andersen) – hang on, last time I saw her, she was dying in one of the novels? – is trying to insert herself into Belikova’s circle, with her own agenda in mind. It all builds to an extended battle, pitting Leon and rebel commander, Alexander Kozachenko (Wittenberg/Earnest), along with the Lickers the latter controls, against the monstrous Tyrants fighting on behalf of Belikova.

This is particularly well done, a lengthy, escalating sequence of animated carnage, even if it does require something of a deus ex machina to show up at the end. It’s clear that animation has progressed markedly since the first movie, and this film takes full advantage of those improvements in its action scenes. For the purposes of this site, I’d really like to have seen more of Wong, whose moral ambivalence is intriguing; I reached the end, and still didn’t know on whose side she was supposed to be. [She does show up in RE: Retribution, played by Li BingBing, albeit dubbed there too]. The scene below, where she goes hand-to-hand with President Belikova, is a lot of fun – Belikova certainly counts as one of the more hard-core politicians I’ve seen! Bet she could kick Hillary Clinton’s ass…

And that is as close to politics as I’m ever going to get o

Dir: Makoto Kamiya
Star (voice): Matthew Mercer, Dave Wittenberg, Courtenay Taylor, Wendee Lee
Star (motion-capture): Kevin Dorman, David Earnest, Jolene Andersen, Melinda Lee

Underworld: Blood Wars

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“Game of Vampires”

At this point, five movies into the franchise, it probably becomes churlish to complain about the aspects that have sustained the series thus far. You’re watching an epic war, waged down the centuries, between vampires and werewolves. It is, literally, non-sense. This, however, is separate and independent from any entertainment value, and despite some issues, this is perhaps the best in the series since the original [some may argue for the third entry, but that appears to have strayed in from a different franchise entirely, containing only peanut-allergy level traces of Selene].

Wisely, it begins with a “previously on Underworld” synopsis: it has been four years since the last installment, and neither Chris nor I could remember much of it without checking Wikipedia. Brief précis: Eve, the daughter of Selene (Beckinsale), is the key to determining who wins the vampire-lycan war; Selene has abandoned Eve and wiped her own memories to avoid being used to track her down. Now, moving into the current edition: word of this doesn’t appear to have reached the powers that be. For both her own team, under Thomas (Charles Dance, occupying the “British thespian” role previously occupied by Bill Nighy), and the rising werewolf overlord, Marcus (Menzies), want to use her to their own ends. After a bit of slaughter and betrayal, Eve and Thomas’s son, David (James) are forced north, to seek refuge in the last vampire coven, with Marcus and his pack in hot pursuit.

By this stage, Selene is clearly a character that gives precisely zero fucks. She’s lost her family, her one true love and her daughter in earlier installments, and the bastards still won’t leave her alone. By the end of this one, she has made some gains, in the shape of slutty blonde highlights and powers resulting from one too many sessions playing Mortal Kombat. I find myself endorsing both of these. It’s apparent the writers here are also big Game of Thrones fans: the Northern vampires are a cross between the Night’s Watch and Daenerys Targaryen. The whole back-stabbing familial stuff is cut from that cloth as well, and Dance isn’t the only Thrones face to show up. No, not Peter Dinklage, though the idea of him as a were-corgi appeals greatly.

It comes in at a remarkably brisk 91 minutes, a pace from which certain other movies could learn [I’m looking at you – and my watch – Rogue One], and there’s not much slack. Nor, admittedly, is there much of a complete plot: the ending opens more doors than it closes, particularly with regard to Selene’s new abilities. There are some elements that appear more style than substance, such as the heroine drinking her own blood to remember things. Wouldn’t it be easier to… ah, just remember things? I can only imagine a vampire going, “Now, I know there was something I had to do today. What was it?” [gnaws on wrist] “Oh, yeah: take the garbage out. Anyone got a Band-Aid?” It’s on much safer ground sticking to the hack-and-stabbage, though we could have done with some better lighting there. Disclaimer: we watched the 2D version, theatrically. Your mileage may vary in more dimensions, or at home.

On the plus side, we get a couple of bonus strong female characters. Lara Pulver makes a good impression as the scheming vampire, and Clementine Nicholson does a fine imitation of a low-rent Emilia Clarke, playing the Nordic Coven’s leading warrior, Lena (maybe another GoT nod in that name?). On the downside, the CGI werewolves still look awful, particularly during their transformations, and there’s another (sigh) vampire-werewolf romance, which works out as well as they always do i.e. not very. You’d think people would have learned by now. Then again, this is a universe where Kate Beckinsale is basically the same as she was in 2003 when the first film came out, and is still capable of kicking ass while being easy on the eye.

Interestingly, this entry was directed by a woman. Foerster makes her feature debut, though she has helmed episodes of Outlander, a show set just a few miles from where I grew up in Scotland. Sorry, that’s not relevant to anything – what probably is, is that Menzies played that series’s main villain. Foerster also did second-unit work on Aeon Flux and was director of photography on White House Down, so has action experience. Hard to say if this makes any particular difference to the tone here, but I generally  support more women directors in our genre, as they can potentially offer an alternative perspective. Here, though, it’s simply another entry in the franchise. If it’s unlikely to lure in or convert any new fans, those who appreciated the previous four entries are probably not going to come away feeling short-changed.

Dir: Anna Foerster
Star: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver

Vampire Chicks With Chainsaws

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“Had me at ‘chainsaws’, to be honest.”

This probably seemed better than it is, simply because it had the benefit of being watched immediately after Iconoclast. Two hours of static would have been an improvement on that. All told, this doesn’t suck. While clearly extremely low-budget (it reportedly cost a thousand bucks), and I’m not sure the plot would stand daylight any better than a vampire, it does at least deliver on what the title and sleeve promise. Indeed, within the first five minutes, we have fanged women wielding mechanical wood-cutting equipment. Check, check and check, even if the specific woman on the poster is not actually in the movie.

It plays somewhat like a backwoods version of Underworld – there’s certainly a lot more running through forests. By this, I mean the vampires are engaged in a centuries-long war against their enemy, into which an innocent human man is drawn, only for the lead vampire ass-kicker to fall in love with him. The vampires here also seems to share the same couture choice, albeit (obviously) at a much lower level of budget. The main difference is the opposition is provided, not by werewolves, but extra-terrestrials called “outlanders”. They came to earth and mated with our species, the resulting offspring being vampires. However, again for reasons of cost, the aliens are indistinguishable from humans, except for coughing up green blood when shot, stabbed or cut up (out of shot) with chainsaws.

The hero is Quinn Ash, whose life has sucked since his wife left him, and he’s living in crappy trailer, thoroughly disgruntled. Even though he’s a redneck in a vest. he speaks in voice-over, like a private eye in a hard-boiled film noir. Things change, albeit not necessarily for the better, when he literally runs into a young woman on a country road. Remarkably unhurt, she injects him with a syringe and runs off, before being captured by a group of men. Quinn is then captured too, by Karel (Lisonbee) and her vampire posse. They eventually – and by this, I mean after about 40 minutes where neither hero nor audience have any clue what’s going on – explain the scenario. Turns out Quinn had been injected with an experimental drug, developed by the outlanders to kill the otherwise immortal female vampires. So, the makers have seen Ultraviolet as well.

With a bit more money, this could have been worthwhile, even if the scenario (as noted) largely consists of aspects cobbled together from elsewhere. Instead, there’s too much running around in woods, and even the chainsaws are almost entirely sound effect. The script also needs to establish what the hell is going on a lot quicker: by the time there’s any meaningful exposition, you’re halfway through and have largely given up hope. All this said, it was never specifically dull, and I’d not mind seeing what Diego could do with a bit more resources. But this was simply a significant improvement on Iconoclast, and I’m very grateful for that alone.

Dir: Carlos Don Diego
Star: Adam Abram, Jenna Lisonbee, Jamie Rosquist, RaeAnn Christensen

Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay

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“Zombies vs. wrestlers.”

battle-girlA meteor crashes into Tokyo Bay, creating a cloud of “cosmo-amphetamine” that infects everyone in the area. When they die, that drug immediately takes over, bringing them back to life as flesh-eating zombies. Colonel Kirihara is leading the rescue mission, and sends his daughter, K-ko (Suzuki) into the contaminated zone to scope things out. She finds that one of his underling, Captain Fujioka, is using the chaos to carry out human experiments, deliberately infecting survivors with the cosmo-amphetamine, in order to turn them into an unstoppable force of undead soldiers. He’s not willing to let anyone get out alive, least of all K-ko. Fortunately, her father gave her a battle suit, which helps to even the odds against the living dead army she faces.

It’s a small-scale production, though has had more than the usual thought put into it. I appreciated, for example, the scene inserted at the beginning, to explain why the power remains on in the city, despite the unfolding disaster. The first half is nicely put together, with K-ko making her way through the city, encountering the “Battle Kids”, a bus-driving group of black marketeers, and uncovering Fujioka’s evil pans for those unfortunate enough to be inside the quarantined area. It’s less effective down the stretch, becoming not much more than a series of human vs. zombie battles, that blur into each other without much sense of escalation. It’s no spoiler to say it leads to the inevitable battle between K-ko and the soldier-scientist. Albeit, only after an unconvincing gobbet of exposition, with clumsy lines like, “If the world powers dare to wipe out our nation, we’ll counter attack with 35 meltdown-ready nuclear plants in Japan and a cosmo-amphetamine mutant army which has no fear of death.”

At the time, Suzuki was one of the biggest stars in Japanese women’s pro-wrestling, and acquits herself fairly well in the action scenes. These are blocked and shot in a similar way to puroresu, with a minimum of editing, and some of her ring rivals also show up as members of Fujioka’s “Human Hunter Unit,” including Devil Masami, Shinobu Kandori and Eagle Sawai. This explains why the combat includes moves not normally seen in hand-to-hand battles, including the tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and tombstone piledriver. It does not, however, explain the battle bikini, worn in particular by one opponent. You’ll know her when you see her. Or them, if you know what I mean and I think you do…

Overall though, time has been fairly kind to this 1991 Japanese video production. A quarter of a century later, it appears to have had a significant influence on the Resident Evil films, particularly Apocalypse. It has perhaps also benefited from the renaissance in the zombie genre over the past few years. While still unquestionably low-budget, what seemed somewhat underwhelming when I originally watched it in the late nineties, now seems quite acceptable, and maybe even ahead of its time.

Dir: Kazuo Komizu
Star: Cutie Suzuki, Kera, Keiko Yahase, Kenji Otsuki

Sorrow

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“Coherence. It’s vastly over-rated.”

sorrowEven given my tolerance for small budget and independent films, this was a chore both times I watched it. The first time, I got half-way through and gave up. Returning the next day, I decided to give it another chance, and started from the beginning again. While I did make it all the way to the end on the second occasion, this is one of those cases where I reached the end, and was actively irritated by the fact I could have spent the time doing any number of more interesting, productive or fun things.

It starts with the aftermath of a shoot-out at a house, which leaves the cops picking over multiple dead bodies – including one of their own, killed by a booby-trap – and the sole living witness, Mila Sweeney (Vasquez) in hospital with a shoulder wound. She absconds from there, because in one of the inexplicable pieces of plotting, the cops don’t bother to keep an eye on her there, and it’s up to Detective Ana Salinas (Mars) to try and reel Mila back in. Alongside this, we get a series of flashbacks (except, you have to figure out what’s a flashback and what’s current, entirely on your own), depicting events leading up to the shoot-out, which saw Mila have the misfortune to knock on the door of a house occupied by a nomadic trio of psychopaths, Dale (Martinez), Hersey (Etuk) and Gambit, who welcome the delivery of fresh meat.

The rest of the film judders back and forth between the heroine’s efforts to escape her captivity, and her post-shootout quest for vengeance, yet also wobbles between portraying this from Mila’s perspective and those of the perpetrators. It’s as if the script – also written by director Loredo – couldn’t figure out what angle or approach to take, and ended up going for a half-assed attempt to cover them all. This is one of the reasons why hard experience has shown me that it’s a warning sign when any low-budget film is written by the same person directing it. This approach largely removes the opportunity for an outsider  to look at the script with a critical eye and go, “Hang on. That won’t work.”

You can see what Loredo is going for, and I can’t deny the obvious passion here. It’s just a shame that there is virtually nothing else good enough to retain your attention. In particular, occasionally good performances are wasted because the script is horrible at its most important and basic job: telling a coherent story. The viewer is left thrashing around trying to put together the pieces, and while not impossible, this is a task where the director needs to be someone more like David Lynch, rather than a rookie trying her hand at directing a feature for the first time, especially one who appears to this she is Quentin Tarantino.

Dir: Millie Loredo
Star: Vannessa Vasquez, Melissa Mars, Eric Martinez, Mary Etuk

StalkHer

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“Stalk is cheap.”

As high concepts go, this one is impressive. Serial killer Jack (Jarratt) breaks into the house of his latest intended victim, Emily (Fairfax), a middle-aged nurxe in the hospital where he works as a pharmacist, whom he has been quietly stalking. Expecting no problems, Jack is in for a surprise; Emily is waiting with a tazer. Jack regains consciousness to find himself tied to the chair, and facing someone who may well be his superior in terms of well-concealed psychotic intentions – not to mention, previous body-count.

This is the kind of story that’s more interesting in where it’s going than in how it gets there. The way it ends, opens up a broad swathe of possibilities, most of which would likely be more fun than watching the two foul-mouthed leads interacting. [It’s certainly undeniably Australian in its harsh and copious bad language!] For, truth be told, neither Jack nor Emily are particularly likeable, and you’re are left watching their verbal sparring without any genuine emotional investment. There is some resonance, due to Jarratt having also played a serial killer in the two Wolf Creek films, but some of the plot developments here seem artificial and forced for the sake of the ending, rather than flowing naturally out of the characters.

The concept of a middle-aged, almost matronly female serial killer is intriguing, and could have become an amusingly sharp contrast to the lurid excess of Nurse 3D. Alternatively, Jarratt could perhaps have followed in the footsteps of John Waters’ Serial Mom, in which Kathleen Turner played an insane housewife, whose victims were chosen on the slightest of pretexts, e.g. failing to separate properly their recyclable garbage. Instead, while the poster proclaims the film to be “inappropriate, funny, romantic,” I can’t honestly say it made the slightest ripple as far as the second and third categories are concerned. Even the first comes up short, not least because it includes inserts of sequences that are only taking place in the characters’ minds – on more than one occasion, I was disappointed by that realization.

It’s Jarratt’s first time as a director, and although he has plenty of experience in front of the camera, it’s a remarkably “safe” project, especially given the subject matter, and comes over almost entirely as a stage-play unfolding in front of the camera. The script is also by a first-time writer, Kristijana Maric, and I can’t help suspecting the whole project would likely have been better served with longer track records in both departments.

Dir: John Jarratt
Star: Kaarin Fairfax, John Jarratt

Blood Redd

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“What big secrets you have, Grandma…”

bloodreddLauren Redd (Huller) really doesn’t want to spend the weekend at Grandma’s house. Like most teenage girls, she has a million things she’d rather be doing than visit an elderly relation. On arriving, she meets Albert (Widener), a flamboyant caregiver – but one who turns out to be a serial killer with a wolf fetish. Fortunately, the threat – along with a little something slipped into Lauren’s drink – awakens her own inner wolf – and it’s not just a fetish, but true lycanthropy, passed down in maternal genes through her family. When Lauren wakes the next morning, she finds herself covered in blood, a severely-injured Albert not far away, and her mother (Hassett) with some serious ‘xplaining to do. However, pathologist Mortimer Clarke (Frainza) is piecing together the clues, even if no-one in the police force will take his belief in werewolves seriously, for obvious reasons.

It’s a bit of a fractured item this, with about three different stories going on, almost feeling like they come from entirely different films. First, there’s the obvious Little Red Riding Hood adaptation, focusing on the Lauren/Albert relationship, up to and immediately after her transformation. Then, there’s Lauren, coming to terms with her new talents, which are both a help and a hindrance at high-school. Finally, there’s also Clarke’s investigation, as he tries to figure out what happened at Grandma’s, and whether the supposed “dog attack” actually took place as claimed. Not all of these work equally well: the first is certainly overlong, especially given it is just not very interesting, in particular with Widener overplaying the “gay” thing like a drag queen on meth. I’d much rather have seen more of the high-school aspects, which are effectively played, reminding me somewhat of the truly awesome Ginger Snaps, or the familial history, also not dissimilar to the recently-reviewed When Animals Dream.

This is, let’s be honest, done on a much smaller budget than either, and there are aspects which make the limited resources painfully obvious, such as the actual transformation – they probably shouldn’t have bothered. On the other hand, some are well done: Hassett gives a convincing portrayal of a mother willing to do anything for her daughter, and the ending ties up the loose ends in a way that makes sense and is also emotionally satisfying. You may find, as I did, that the early going here is more than a bit of a slog, and you’ll need to persevere to reach the more interesting aspects that follow. Palmer has found some original twists for the genre, and it’s only a shame he didn’t concentrate more fully on these, instead of the less successful elements that bog things down considerably in the first half.

Dir: Brad Palmer
Star: Stephanie Hullar, Julie Marie Hassett, Christopher Frainza, Torey Widener

The Graves

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“Home cooking isn’t necessarily more tasty.”

thegravesI must confess to being drawn in to this 2009 film partly by the “local interest” factor, it being an entirely Arizona-grown product. This is obvious – indeed, painfully so – in the early going, which includes a plug for a comic-store chain and a performance by a local band, as well as a particularly cringe-inducing cameo by some of the director’s own comics. Mercifully, the film rapidly moves on to the actual plot. This has sisters Megan and Abby Graves (Grant and Murray) head out for a spot of sibling bonding, before one moves from Phoenix to New York. Their road-trip takes them to a diner where they’re told about a nearby ghost town, Skull City, the site of a former gold-mine. Megan – the more outgoing and confident – is all for it; Abby is less sure, but is eventually convinced. What they don’t know, is that the mine is the home of a very nasty cult of religious psychos led by the Reverend Abraham Stockton (Todd), and even the friendliest of locals (Moseley) can turn out to be potentially lethal.

I appreciated the straightforward and unpretentious nature of this: it’s the two girls (really, it’s almost entirely Megan who’s the proactive one, with Abby only really good for running and screaming, with a side-order of quivering in terror) against the world. The story is thus largely to the point, though they might as well have disposed entirely with the unseen demonic entity subplot, since it doesn’t add anything, given the effects budget was apparently largely limited to hearing it consume souls… Unfortunately, that poverty extends to quite a few other aspects. For example, the mayhem has a tendency to happen just off-screen, which is never satisfactory at the best of times, and the use of obvious CGI blood only draws attention to this shortcoming.

The performances are a bit over the place too. I enjoyed Todd, who chews scenery to good effect, from the moment he stalks into the diner, a terrified young girl in tow. He seems to have a handle on the comic-book tone for which Pulido is going. The rest of the cast? Not so much, particularly Moseley, who seems to think that putting a fake pig’s nose on equates somehow to exuding menace. He’s wrong. The two leads fall somewhere in between: while they’re okay, the characters are never much more than generic cyphers. At least Pulido was wise enough to dump the hand-held video camera which infects some of the early going: a good rule for the use of such being, it’s never a good idea. I’ll admit half a star of my grade is likely the kick I got out of seeing places I know, such as scenes filmed at the late, lamented venue, The Sets in Tempe.  Take that away and sad to say, there isn’t enough meat on the bones of its potential. The moral here is, just because you can make a film, doesn’t mean you should….

Dir: Brian Pulido
Star: Clare Grant, Jillian Murray, Bill Moseley, Tony Todd

We Are Monsters

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“Swedish grindhouse: Some assembly apparently required.”

wearemonstersThe rape-revenge genre is a problematic one. Done properly, it can be awesome, and pack a real wallop. See Ms. 45, or Thriller: A Cruel Picture for examples where the makers got it right. But there are an awful lot of mis-steps possible on the way. Unfortunately, this proves the point, mostly by being remarkably… Well, “bland” is probably appropriate, and is also damning criticism. For these kind of movies should be offensive, because rape is. If its depiction isn’t hard for the viewer to watch, you’re not doing it right. On that basis, the makers here definitely get it wrong.

Emma (Oldenburg) is on a business trip, in her role as a PR advisor, when she gets in the wrong taxi. She regains consciousness, tied up in a remote cabin. There, she’s at utterly at the mercy of savvy psychopath Jim (Ralph Beck), and his simpleton sidekick, Pete (Andersson). It soon becomes clear she is not their first victim. And also, that they have no compunction about disposing of their left-overs. That’s just the start of Emma’s descent into hell, which is a necessary component of the genre. To be followed by her turning the tables and subjecting her attackers to equal brutality, to the cheers of the audience. In theory, anyway.

The first off-putting element is, it’s supposedly set in America, yet clearly isn’t, with accents roughly as convincing as Inspector Clouseau [Emma, bizarrely, is supposedly Australian – one presumes that was the only accent Oldenburg could do!]. There’s no reason beyond crass commercialism, why its location couldn’t be the real one, of Sweden. Then we get to the downswing, and there’s no emotional impact at all. We’re given no reason to care about Emma, except that she’s the victim, nor any reason to hate Jim and Pete, save they’re the perpetrators. Now, we don’t need any more reason, but it’s appallingly lazy film-making to rely on such a simply dynamic. The series of attacks are shot in such a superficial way they’re frankly boring, when they should leave the viewer shaken and stirred.

There’s also a thread where Pete spends a lot of time watching slasher films. If there’s an intended moral there, it’s a remarkably hypocritical one, given the genre in which this firmly operates. Eventually, after an aborted escape attempt or two, the inevitable happens. The makers do at least get that right, with Emma inflicting some truly brutal revenge, including one scene I defy any man to watch without squirming. Yet, the ineffective nature of what has gone before robs the revenge of any significant impact, and it instead falls into the category of “too little, too late.” Having shallowly enjoyed the directors’ previous effort, the “spam in a cabin” film Wither, their attempt here to recapture the spirit of the grindhouse era was severely disappointing.

Dir: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Star: Hanna Oldenburg, Torbjörn Andersson, Ralf Beck, Niki Nordenskjöld