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Written by Phil Robinson Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:44
Features - Reviews
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Expect the unexpected with this utterly original take on a genre that has been almost done to death in countless horror films of the same ‘basic’ premise; five friends decide to take a road trip to a dilapidated creepy old cabin in a remote woodland area unaware of the horrors that await them.  If you are already familiar with the works of director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon then you will know to expect something that goes beyond the basic ‘what you see is what you get’ feeling in many slasher/horror flicks of the same concept.
It is difficult to say much about this film without giving away any of the clever plot twists and developments, but it is clear from the opening sequence where we see two men going to work in a seemingly mundane office, then cut to the main five characters, that there is more to this film than meets the eye. Apart from the odd cameo appearance, the majority of the cast are not the most well-known (apart from the likes of Chris Hemsworth) but they all act accordingly to what you would ‘initially’ expect from a horror film, but what makes the characters so enjoyable to watch  is how Whedon and Goddard give us a perfect  mix of seriousness (with surprisingly good acting) undercut with laugh out loud humour in the most inappropriate situations (if you have ever seen shows like Angel or Firefly/Serenity then you will know what I mean).
Not surprisingly, a few people stood up and walked out of the cinema in the first twenty minutes, which is a shame as what follows up until the end is an extremely clever and increasingly evolving series of events which almost gives us film within a film feeling wherein the horror/creature feature ‘setup’ is just smoke and mirrors for the real horror that sits comfortably behind the computer screens of the office workers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Lin (Amy Acker). Even up until the films climax you are never given a result that meets your ‘expectations’ which is the films biggest strength; taking what you think you know about slasher films and turning it on its head (much the same way the ‘Scream’ films are slasher films about the psychology of slasher films with bundles of pop culture references).
This film isn’t to everyone’s taste and may seem too tongue in cheek for some people, and if you are hoping for a film that tries to take itself too seriously in the horror department then you will probably be disappointed. However if you can look past the first layer you will see the films true identity as a concept driven social commentary jam packed with so many quirks you will want to watch it again just to pick up on the subtle nods the director makes to the films bigger picture, other horror films,  and the audience itself.
Love it or hate it, the Cabin in the Woods is a bold perceptive thrill ride and the fact it is attracting both positive and negative attention only adds to the films credibility as not just your average horror flick.
Now showing at Cineworld Nottingham.
Expect the unexpected with this utterly original take on a genre that has been almost done to death in countless horror films of the same ‘basic’ premise; five friends decide to take a road trip to a dilapidated creepy old cabin in a remote woodland area unaware of the horrors that await them.  If you are already familiar with the works of director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon then you will know to expect something that goes beyond the basic ‘what you see is what you get’ feeling in many slasher/horror flicks of the same concept.
It is difficult to say much about this film without giving away any of the clever plot twists and developments, but it is clear from the opening sequence where we see two men going to work in a seemingly mundane office, then cut to the main five characters, that there is more to this film than meets the eye. Apart from the odd cameo appearance, the majority of the cast are not the most well-known (apart from the likes of Chris Hemsworth) but they all act accordingly to what you would ‘initially’ expect from a horror film, but what makes the characters so enjoyable to watch  is how Whedon and Goddard give us a perfect  mix of seriousness (with surprisingly good acting) undercut with laugh out loud humour in the most inappropriate situations (if you have ever seen shows like Angel or Firefly/Serenity then you will know what I mean).
Not surprisingly, a few people stood up and walked out of the cinema in the first twenty minutes, which is a shame as what follows up until the end is an extremely clever and increasingly evolving series of events which almost gives us film within a film feeling wherein the horror/creature feature ‘setup’ is just smoke and mirrors for the real horror that sits comfortably behind the computer screens of the office workers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Lin (Amy Acker). Even up until the films climax you are never given a result that meets your ‘expectations’ which is the films biggest strength; taking what you think you know about slasher films and turning it on its head (much the same way the ‘Scream’ films are slasher films about the psychology of slasher films with bundles of pop culture references).
This film isn’t to everyone’s taste and may seem too tongue in cheek for some people, and if you are hoping for a film that tries to take itself too seriously in the horror department then you will probably be disappointed. However if you can look past the first layer you will see the films true identity as a concept driven social commentary jam packed with so many quirks you will want to watch it again just to pick up on the subtle nods the director makes to the films bigger picture, other horror films,  and the audience itself.
Love it or hate it, the Cabin in the Woods is a bold perceptive thrill ride and the fact it is attracting both positive and negative attention only adds to the films credibility as not just your average horror flick.
Now showing at Cineworld Nottingham.
Written by Phil Robinson Tuesday, 21 February 2012 22:34
Features - Reviews
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The Woman in Black
Fresh from the success of the Harry potter series Daniel Radcliffe is back in a tragically terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill’s ‘The woman in Black’, and produced by Hammer this is a film that the horror scene  lacks in many films; substance, style and story which doesn’t rely solely on the fear aspect .
Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a troubled grieving single father and London based lawyer sent to a small village named Crythin Gifford in the North of England to handle the affairs and stately home of one deceased Mrs Drablow. What is meant to be a simple matter is turned into a harrowing series of events for Kipps, all seemingly linked to a mysterious shadowy black figure and the children of a nearby village.
The premise is simple and comes with many familiar horror film ingredients; A ghostly apparition, a gothic run down creaky mansion, a townsfolk who shut their doors and windows on the main character (Kipps)  and at its core,  a backstory filled with betrayal and tragedy.  Accusations of this films clichéd nature aside, what else would you expect or enjoy out of a good old fashioned ghost story? And good old fashioned solid horror tales that don’t just rely on cheap thrills are few and far between.
The opening of the film, in which we see three little girls at a make believe tea party suddenly for no reason leap to their deaths out the attic window, really set the tone for the whole film: Grimm, bleak and very creepy. The setting of the small village surrounded by a desolate grey marshland adds to the silence and oppressive feeling in the film which is reflected in the towns people gripped in fear.
As with other successful horror films of this nature (such as the Others), what frightens you the most is not what you see but those fleeting glimpses of faces in windows, things that go bump in the night or objects that have moved on second glances and this film really utilizes these to their full potential (queue the real star of the show – that rocking chair that just will not stop rocking!).  What I enjoyed about the scare aspect was how the tension slowly builds and is maintained, as for example when Kipps (Radcliffe) spends and entire day and night in the haunted mansion on his own and we experience every small sensation from his point of view.
This may not be the horror blockbuster of the century that is looking to break the mould (possibly why many supposed horror lovers will be disappointed), but there is so much in this film to be appreciated it can easily be missed on first glances: The story is cleverly told and leaves just the right amount open to interpretation in the finale. There is also a real sense or danger here as instead of screaming adults, who you don’t really care about, the focus is on children who are the real victims and as such there is a true sadness running in this film and the characters. The camerawork and music (provided by Marco Beltrami) also add to the symbolic Grimm fairy tale style and the whole production looks like something taken right out of a period gothic horror novel with fine attention to detail in the costumes and set pieces.
Radcliffe once again shows us that he is more than capable in a role like this; my only gripe is that after seeing him portray a depressed fearful character towards the end of the Harry Potter films, what we get is more of the same downtrodden persona in this film. However this is easily forgiven as the real emphasis is on the tale and the traditional telling of it. The woman in Black is not perfect but if you are looking for a classy evocative ghost story that is as sad as it is eerie then you will probably love this film.
The Woman in Black
Fresh from the success of the Harry potter series Daniel Radcliffe is back in a tragically terrifying adaptation of Susan Hill’s ‘The woman in Black’, and produced by Hammer this is a film that the horror scene  lacks in many films; substance, style and story which doesn’t rely solely on the 'jump out of your seat' aspect .
Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a troubled grieving single father and London based lawyer sent to a small village named Crythin Gifford in the North of England to handle the affairs and stately home of one deceased Mrs Drablow. What is meant to be a simple matter is turned into a harrowing series of events for Kipps, all seemingly linked to a mysterious shadowy black figure and the children of a nearby village.
The premise is simple and comes with many familiar horror film ingredients; A ghostly apparition, a gothic run down creaky mansion, a townsfolk who shut their doors and windows on the main character (Kipps)  and at its core,  a backstory filled with betrayal and tragedy.  Accusations of this films clichéd nature aside, what else would you expect or enjoy out of a good old fashioned ghost story? And good old fashioned solid horror tales that don’t just rely on cheap thrills are few and far between.
The opening of the film, in which we see three little girls at a make believe tea party suddenly for no reason leap to their deaths out the attic window, really set the tone for the whole film: Grimm, bleak and very creepy. The setting of the small village surrounded by a desolate grey marshland adds to the silence and oppressive feeling in the film which is reflected in the towns people gripped in fear.
As with other successful horror films of this nature (such as the Others), what frightens you the most is not what you see but those fleeting glimpses of faces in windows, things that go bump in the night or objects that have moved on second glances and this film really utilizes these to their full potential (queue the real star of the show – that rocking chair that just will not stop rocking!).  What I enjoyed about the scare aspect was how the tension slowly builds and is maintained, as for example when Kipps (Radcliffe) spends and entire day and night in the haunted mansion on his own and we experience every small sensation from his point of view.
This may not be the horror blockbuster of the century that is looking to break the mould (possibly why many supposed horror lovers will be disappointed), but there is so much in this film to be appreciated it can easily be missed on first glances: The story is cleverly told and leaves just the right amount open to interpretation in the finale. There is also a real sense or danger here as instead of screaming adults, who you don’t really care about, the focus is on children who are the real victims and as such there is a true sadness running in this film and the characters. The camerawork and music (provided by Marco Beltrami) also add to the symbolic Grimm fairy tale style and the whole production looks like something taken right out of a period gothic horror novel with fine attention to detail in the costumes and set pieces.
Radcliffe once again shows us that he is more than capable in a role like this; my only gripe is that after seeing him portray a depressed fearful character towards the end of the Harry Potter films, what we get is more of the same downtrodden persona in this film. However this is easily forgiven as the real emphasis is on the tale and the traditional telling of it. The woman in Black is not perfect but if you are looking for a classy evocative ghost story that is as sad as it is eerie then you will probably love this film.
Written by Phil Robinson Sunday, 11 December 2011 12:26
Features - Reviews
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The Thing.
Hands up if you remember screaming out in terror and laughter at the sight of a man’s head detaching itself from his body, sprouting legs and scurrying across the floor like a house spider? If so then you’re probably a fan of John Carpenters  cult classic original film of the same title, and if so you probably were as excited as I was at the release of this prequel directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as a flame thrower wielding palaeontologist in place of a bearded Kurt Russell) . Sadly to say this film did not hold a light to the original 1982 version.
This is not to say that this is a bad film: ‘The Thing’ is a wildly entertaining film that will have you squirming out of your own skin as the otherworld being does exactly the same to several of the research team members. As with any self-respecting Prequel, we see some iconic imagery from the original given an on screen pay off in this new  adaptation (queue the famous  double face pull ‘thing’ amongst others), and of course the setup of how the events in this film lead right onto the original which never fails to please fans.
However, even though there is a slow build-up of paranoid tension once the alien is exhumed from the ice, there seems to be a general lack of the same nerve shredding tension in the original version. The characters in the original Thing did a fantastic job of hurling wild accusations at one another while still maintaining their character, so you really invested your time with them. Here it felt more like a group of randomly selected bearded men shouting at one another but having no real screen presence (and way too many of them to keep track of or even remember their names). Contrary to a lot of views, I did not have a problem with the introduction of female characters and a strong female lead, why not? I initially thought female characters  is what would be a factor in setting this film apart from the original, and although Winstead’s acting is solid her character becomes far too predictable and soon turns into an monster hunting Ellen Ripley Wanabee (from original alien saga).
Of course the real star of the show (and rightfully so) is the alien ‘Thing’ itself. Imagine the most disgusting visceral display of flesh being torn inside out, running around trying to devour whatever or whoever is nearest and you have a brief understanding of what the thing is and its various incarnations. For the most part this film does a great job of making you want to scream and laugh out loud in disgust (the same reaction you have to watching embarrassing bodies!). With so many advances in CGI there was no other way to do this film that wouldn’t have been trying too hard to mimic the original, which relied mainly on puppets; that films ultimate strength. Although the special effects here are top notch and fun to watch, sadly the Thing eventually turns into CGI overload which detracts from the suspense and the horror aspect.
The Thing is like marmite; you will either love it for what it is (a complete gross –out thrill ride), or hate it for what it stands for (another take on a cult classic that was not needed to be told). I tend to favour the latter but I would happily watch it again with friends, just to see the look on their faces when body parts start sprouting extra limbs and teeth!
The Thing.
Hands up if you remember screaming out in terror and laughter at the sight of a man’s head detaching itself from his body, sprouting legs and scurrying across the floor like a house spider? If so then you’re probably a fan of John Carpenters  cult classic original film of the same title, and if so you probably were as excited as I was at the release of this prequel directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as a flame thrower wielding palaeontologist in place of a bearded Kurt Russell) . Sadly to say this film did not hold a light to the original 1982 version.
This is not to say that this is a bad film: ‘The Thing’ is a wildly entertaining film that will have you squirming out of your own skin as the otherworld being does exactly the same to several of the research team members. As with any self-respecting Prequel, we see some iconic imagery from the original given an on screen pay off in this new  adaptation (queue the famous  double face pull ‘thing’ amongst others), and of course the setup of how the events in this film lead right onto the original which never fails to please fans.
However, even though there is a slow build-up of paranoid tension once the alien is exhumed from the ice, there seems to be a general lack of the same nerve shredding tension in the original version. The characters in the original Thing did a fantastic job of hurling wild accusations at one another while still maintaining their character, so you really invested your time with them. Here it felt more like a group of randomly selected bearded men shouting at one another but having no real screen presence (and way too many of them to keep track of or even remember their names). Contrary to a lot of views, I did not have a problem with the introduction of female characters and a strong female lead, why not? I initially thought female characters  is what would be a factor in setting this film apart from the original, and although Winstead’s acting is solid her character becomes far too predictable and soon turns into an monster hunting Ellen Ripley Wanabee (from original alien saga).
Of course the real star of the show (and rightfully so) is the alien ‘Thing’ itself. Imagine the most disgusting visceral display of flesh being torn inside out, running around trying to devour whatever or whoever is nearest and you have a brief understanding of what the thing is and its various incarnations. For the most part this film does a great job of making you want to scream and laugh out loud in disgust (the same reaction you have to watching embarrassing bodies!). With so many advances in CGI there was no other way to do this film that wouldn’t have been trying too hard to mimic the original, which relied mainly on puppets; that films ultimate strength. Although the special effects here are top notch and fun to watch, sadly the Thing eventually turns into CGI overload which detracts from the suspense and the horror aspect.
The Thing is like marmite; you will either love it for what it is (a complete gross –out thrill ride), or hate it for what it stands for (another take on a cult classic that was not needed to be told). I tend to favour the latter but I would happily watch it again with friends, just to see the look on their faces when body parts start sprouting extra limbs and teeth!
Written by Phil Robinson Sunday, 30 October 2011 17:40
Features - Reviews
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Halloween; It’s that time of the year when things that go bump in the night surface and everyone loves to scare themselves into a frenzy with a good scary flick, and those horror lovers of us at Freeq magazine was eager to see what was showing at our local Cineworld. Currently showing is the eagerly awaited Paranormal Activity 3 and the latest offering from Del Toro’s dark imagination; Don’t be afraid of the dark.

Don’t be afraid of the dark.

Return of the good old fashioned horror story.

Writer for the film Guillermo Del Toro teams up with first time film director Troy Nixon in this remake of the creepy 1973 version, which told the tale of a woman (Sally) being terrorized by a horde of demonic little creatures living beneath her new home. The new version introduces some new faces, and instead of Sally being a grown woman we meet Sally as a depressed child (Bailee Madison) struggling with her parents split and having to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) .

Essentially this is almost a carbon copy of the original, apart from a clever take on what the creatures really are and a few character changes, and with a cast primarily made up of four people you can understand why it has received mixed reviews. Yes the story is simple and somewhat predictable and the sets are few and far between, but these qualities only help to exploit the real focus of the film which is both the changing relationships of the central three characters and the creatures themselves. What you are left with is (in true Del Torro fashion) is a perfect mix of horror, fantasy and drama and unlike many horror films which rely on bombarding the audience with scares and gore this film slowly and gradually makes you invest time in the characters so by the end of the film you really feel attached and fearful of the climax (which left me breathless).

Initially I was not sure about the choice of actors to play the parent roles, but both Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce played their parts realistically never letting themselves get carried away and melodramatic as the real centre of the creatures attention was on claiming young Sally as their own and Madison was subtly able to portray anger, fear, sadness and love in ever changing situations and environments.

But the real stars of the show here are the little gnarled, quick moving monsters themselves which come across as if plucked right out of a gothic horror tale such as The Brothers Grimm and fit perfectly in the Gothic styled Blackwood Mansion. When I first saw that the creatures were CGI I was expecting them to be disappointing and unrealistic. However instead of having the creatures in full view the little critters are for the most part only glimpsed at scurrying and climbing various darker corners of the house which only heightens the intrigue and pure pleasure when they eventually come out at night causing their own violent mischief. Even when they are not seen in full your attention is pinned on the creatures whispering voices coming from the grating in the floor which add to them having their own persona and not just a monster that looks nasty; these are vindictive nasty beings.

Unfortunately a film like this which chooses not to obey the predictable rules of horror films come to pass is doomed to receive criticism, and if you are looking for a terrifying horror film that is dark and disturbing then you are definitely going to be disappointed. Make no mistake this film is not perfect, but if you are willing to broaden your view and accept the eclectic mix of drama fairy tale fantasy and horror then you will find yourself pleasantly surprised.

 

Paranormal activity 3

Not a masterpiece but absolutely terrifying!

The ill-fated sisters are back in the third instalment of paranormal activity and like all good trilogies, this film goes right back to the roots to tie up some loose ends from the first two films. The story is simple and if you have watched the first two then you know exactly what you are getting yourself in for. Set back in the late 1980’s the film follows Katie and Kristi as young girls plagued by the nasty presence Kristy likes to call Toby (her aggressive imaginary friend!).

As with the first two films we are once again given the same slow build-up of unbearable tension, raw home camera work, neat subtle and convincing special effects and quality acting from everyone involved. The creators of this franchise have found the perfect blend of horror and tension by stripping it all down to its bare essentials so that you really feel as though you are part of a real experience.

The scare aspect is one of the main elements that keep these films alive and I was really worried it was going to be much of the same that we have already seen, but the film takes on board what has previously been offered and builds on it. We have the more of objects being thrown around, lifted, moved and smashed aspect. We have more of ghostly looking apparitions being spotted on camera that are there one second then gone the next, but this time we have a dialogue and a disturbing relationship that seems to be taking place primarily between Kristi (featured in the second film) and the spectre in question. The entity seems to know what it wants and expresses its wishes more overtly and earlier on than in the first two films (a wise move as we the audience knows the formula and want to get right to it).

There are also more ‘jump out of your seat’ scenes happening but not too many that they distract from the tension that maintains all the way through until the films climax, and these give a nice sudden change of pace that scares without ruining the film. We welcome back the much loved hand held camera, night camera and here we see the new addition: the oscillating camera. This is a great new way of maintaining tension by panning an empty room one second then on its second rotation of the same room there is of course something waiting in the shadows. The silent aspect of the film and the long drawn out camera pans of each room In the night is just as terrifying, not knowing what next is going leap out at you; what you don’t see is just as scary.

Unlike the previous films the two characters the apparition is focused on are helpless children (who both play their parts very convincingly). Unlike adult characters who can to some degree find ways to cope and communicate their fears, the two children become increasingly vulnerable and unable to fight back or even comprehend the seriousness of what is happening. The two adult leads also portray a believable relationship which cleverly reminds us of Mika and Katie in the first film, possibly a conscious decision to cast Christopher Nicholas Smith who bears an uncanny resemblance to the character of Micah.

The other reason why these films haven’t died out is that each film offers new insights into the family history of the sisters which builds on the overall mythology. What you get are three individual films split over different timelines, each with unanswered threads that are tied up in any of the other two films. It almost appears as though this was one long film chopped and reassembles into three films then presented to us backwards leaving you to connect the dots and make some of your own conclusions, which is partly the joy and will leave you talking about all three after the credits (as well as turning on all the lights when you get home).

Horror fans will love it, everyone else find should find a safe warm place to hide!

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