Saturday, 17 September 2011

What the HATCHET?

Ok, did I miss something?

For so long, I have been hearing about this amazing horror throwback and was even intrigued by the controversy surrounding its sequels release, but after purchasing and viewing, I can declare I just don't get the fuss about Hatchet.

It's your standard slasher flick, so the plot is pretty standard; horny teens, crazy killer, gore gore, kill kill. It takes place in the woods of Louisiana, which would be original if most slasher flicks didn't involve woods. The killer is disfigured. Of course.

All I can give this film is that it features Robert 'Freddy Kruger' Englund has a brief cameo at the beginning, some genre heroes peek their heads in and there are some moments of over the top gore that succeeded in making me chuckle. Apart from that, this film is awful. And I don't mean this in a snotty way. I get it is supposed to be a throwback, but it crosses that line of throwback and homage right in to stale and recycled territory. The acting is dire. The photography is even poor. Everything feels like a set.

Actually, Hatchet, maybe we could still be friends? 

Honestly, I've seen so many glowing reviews for this and I just don't get this. Maybe watched while drunk with a large group of hyper friends it could be fun, but I watched it, expecting a fun pastiche. Boy was I disappointed. Even worse, the director of this cheese-fest is none other than director of the all-round brilliant Frozen, Adam Green. Why, Adam Green? Why? 

I have just ruined the best part of the film. And I don't care.

Watching it, you have no doubt the filmmakers enjoyed shooting this massacre, which is oddly a positive for it. But maybe a 10 minute YouTube video would have been enough to satisfy the fanboy urges?

Or a 1:49 long video?

Maybe someone can explain to me what the fuss is, but right now, I'm going to give this 'informed' recommendation: watch Sleepaway Camp instead. It's as tongue-in-cheek, but oh so much more enjoyable in oh so many ways.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


The opening title cards establish the film as footage inexplicably sent to a film centre, which has made a rough cut to present to the public (as you do). With this basic premise for presentation out of the way, we are thrust into a very familiar set up of college kids filming a documentary for school. This Blair Witch deja vu is never fully shaken, but Norwegian horror The Troll Hunter does just about rise above the shadow of the archetype found footage film.

The students follow Hans, a man believed to be responsible for illegal bear poaching, who is resistant to answering their questions. In a borderline stalker manner, they follow him miles across the country, monitoring his stinking modified trailer, and ultimately follow him as he goes out to take care of business during the night. Ultimately, they end up stumbling into Hans as he retreats from a hostile situation in the dead of night screaming 'troll!!!'. With one of the students being bitten by something and their car destroyed, they make a deal with the hunter to join him the following night to reveal all the secrets. 

With dabbings into religious elements, government conspiracies, and the need to give people the truth, The Troll Hunter has a wide world deep in intrigue. The first troll is visually interesting, and becomes even more so throughout when certain defining attributes are revealed to be nothing more than secondary sexual characteristics, and the troll being turned to stone left me gap-jawed. Nothing feels forced, the film pokes fun at its own potentially ridiculous premise (the Polish are brilliant), and it covers a satisfying array of subject matter in its running time. Hell, if a film was ever meant to spawn a sequel, this is it.

It's nose looks like a dong. 
Just putting that out there.

Its biggest problem though, is that the film is a slow burner, which seems to be a common issue with many Norwegian features. There are plenty of shots that dwell on the beautiful Scandinavian landscapes. Certainly beautiful, but not exactly something a film with the best B-movie poster of the year needs to be focusing on. With a film called the Troll Hunter, you know you are in for some fairy tale monsters, but the biggest downfall of the film is that once it unleashes the beasts on us, we are denied access to them for a significant portion of the third act.

But these are the only real problems with the film. Indeed, once the troll action gets going, we are treated to some fantastic tense scenes, intelligent justifications of the mythos, and characters we can get behind. Respectively, waiting for the first sighting is almost unbearable, a legitimate reason for the beasts turning to stone adds a lovely sense of realism, and the jokey and realistic relationship between the students is all too recognisable. The major standout in cast is Otto Jespersen as Hans, who in essence is just too old for this shit.

The trolls themselves differ location to location, with some interesting designs. However, they are realised using CGI and, though on the upper end of the uncanny valley (and probably unbelievable for the budget of the film), they do seem too reminiscent of giants from Harry Potter or ogres from countless video games. This modern day twist to a film marketed in an 80s B-movie way leaves a slightly sour taste on ones tongue. With that said, the troll under the bridge scene is both hilarious and captivating, and the final sequence is a good pay off for the viewer.

Iron Man vs. Sasquatch

In the end, the Troll Hunter is worth a watch, but beware, it is not the campy ride you might expect and in many cases wish it would become. I found myself wanting one major plot point to be a lot more intricate than it ended up being. In some ways, the film just cannot let itself go the whole hog with its insane premise. If you can get over this and just how similar in style and structure it is to Blair Witch, you will find a lovely gem that is both entertaining and intelligent. Recommended.

Monday, 12 September 2011


The new film from THAT Kevin Smith, eh?

The first I heard about Kevin Smith's first flick away from the comedy/drama strain was years ago on SModcast, when he pitched both Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Red State to Mirimax. Zack and Miri won out simply on its title (and ended up as a great romp, in my eyes), but Red State was denied, as it was considered, in Harvey Weinstein's words, too dark. My god, that was all I needed to know!

Cut to 4 years later. Zack and Miri under-performed. Cop Out was, well, a cop out. Smith drew headlines for not being able to fit in an airline seat. There was a lot of talk about him being a nuisance, over the hill and only sustaining his career through a loyal fanbase. A mirade of controversy surrounded his long awaited, independently financed horror, the biggest lambasting being the show he put on in Sundance by generating a massive buzz about the live auction of the films rights, then selling it to himself for $20. 

People found it all to be a media circus, an attempt to promote his new picture and the travelling shows in selected cities. Well, it is now available to everyone on Video on Demand. And Red State is a beast not to be messed with.

Original one sheet made by a member of the crew,
not a promo company. Very nice touch.

Following three high school boys who are kidnapped by extremist right-wing fundamental religious types after being lured in with the promise of sex, we witness the sadistic 'divine retribution' brought on in the name of God. The second half of the film is a Waco-like shootout, bringing us into the complex and into the action.

Muuuulllllleeeetttttt. And tall. But mainly, mullet.

A heavy film by any standards, Red State is reminiscent more of a Cohen brothers film than anything from the View Askewniverse, but this is certainly not a downfall. Smith finally spreads his directorial wings by breaking outside the typical story mode he has returned to time and time again in the past. Instead, we have several distinct groups of protagonists, which can be somewhat disconcerting, making it difficult to know who we are supposed to be following, but it also creates an unprecedented sense of unpredictability. We are not following a distinct hero or keeping an eye on our final girl. Anyone is fair game in this mayhem.

A substantial portion of screen time is given to a sermon by the preacher Abin Cooper (played with disdainful glee by Michael Parks). It can't be a good thing if it actually feels like you're in church, can it!? But throughout the extended scene, we are already made aware of one of our lead protagonists being kept in a cage on the alter, and as Cooper dispels the evils of our sinning world, we watch a human shaped mass wriggle under a sheet, tied to a cross. The almost painful amount of time given to the religious groups views builds an obscene amount of tension as we await the fate of our outsiders on the alter.

You may shit your pants. Michael Parks is awesome. This is normal.

John Goodman appears halfway through the film as the clock-punching federal agent Keenan, whom we follow trying to move in on the compound of the religious group, and then inevitably trying to control the situation. It's his and his teams choices between their orders and their morals that is possibly the biggest conflict ongoing outside the walls of the church's Saw-like deeds. The post-climax scenes are given an unusual amount of time in Red State, to clear up certain matters and wrap up everything, but if you are as involved with the film as I felt, you will revel in this debriefing.

Scenes draw on long in places, but never inappropriately. Again, it is very reminiscent of the Cohen brothers. It cannot be argued that the characters are complex and well drawn. The sign of a good horror film for me is its ability to put you in its characters shoes and force you to try do better, but not be able to come up with a workable alternative. The unpredictability of the plot and the fate of the characters leaves you second guessing any choices you might make, and therefore left to see what happens when all conceivable outcomes are tested.

Kevin Smith talking about Red State with Avid. A bit
long, but well worth a peep.

Director of photography Dave Klein has a big hand in most of Smith's films, typically bringing a friendly, accessible look to the pieces. Here, a similar style established in previous View Askew flicks is on show, but given the creative freedom of the horror genre, visual boundaries are pushed. Normally used as a framing device for dick jokes, the wide angle friendly frame is somewhat more sinister and unnerving. We follow our teenage protagonists, just waiting for the shit to hit the fan, and when it does, things get unforgiving. A brief scene has one of the teenagers running through the tight hallways of the complex and running into a dead end. The camera has never portrayed such a claustrophobic spacing as I see here.

The film is fantastically cast. The teenagers are horny and slightly obnoxious. The sheriff is drunken and demon-filled. The religious zealots are devoted in their ways, and those who are not are fully convincing in their reasoning not to be. The stars of this film are Michael Parks and John Goodman, and such heavyweights do nothing but impress. It's hard not to get excited when they occupy the frame. The film is very set in its views, knowing what point it is trying to get across, which it does very effectively. Even with such a heavy subject matter, Smith peppers in his trademark dirty humour, providing an unexpected giggle more than once throughout.

When I first heard about Red State all those years ago, my imagination went wild in what it would actually be like. I refrained from reading the leaked script or reading spoilers, instead, opting to wait for the final film. Now, released on Video on Demand, seemingly preparing for a theatrical release in Ireland (in the one sheet boasting the new film from That Kevin Smith is to be believed) with a DVD soon to follow (and hopefully a glorious array of special features. Smith has been getting poor on the extras recently!), Red State can be enjoyed in all its glory. It won't be for everyone. In fact, some people might hate it. But at the end of the day, and beyond any preoccupations with the controversy surrounding it, it is a horror film.

And it is a mighty fine one at that.