*This is a day early because I missed last week and have a Stanley Cup Playoff prediction post coming tomorrow night.
Apocalyptic thrillers usually fall into one of two categories, the “road” movie or the “hideout” movie. Great example of the “hideout” movie would be “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.” The “road” movie involves well, “The Road” and other films in which characters try and reach some sort of destination. “The Road” was essentially a zombie film, with dangerous cults filling in for the zombies. To imagine “Stake Land“, think “The Road” which vampires. There’s actually a lot of similarities. There’s a man, and a boy. The man’s name is “Mister”, that’s as close as we get to a name and although the boy with him isn’t his son, he’s essentially taken the role of father/protector.
And yes, the movie has vampires. In the opening scene, we’re treated to an incredibly NASTY attack on a family, which really surprised me in that it sort of involved an unwritten (kind of) rule about horror movie kills. Let’s just say this moment tells you that this movie is for real (as real as you could get anyway in a movie about vampires) and it won’t hold back in terms of killing anyone.
The boy and Mister set out for a location called “New Eden”, which is fitting considering the dangerous religious fanatics they encounter along the way. Since vampires themselves are usually just scary, and not so much evil, the movie uses the religious group to add some psychology to the savagery, much like “The Road” made it scary because the cults were cannibals and you didn’t want to be eaten by other human beings.
Like “The Road” much of the film is set in dark tones, there is a lot of darkness, grays, browns, no real signs of anything living, very little vegetation. It’s a cold “literally” world that involves some small towns/pockets of survivors, but there is fairly little dialogue, characters aren’t expanded upon that well. I guess that’s the one flaw of this film. We like horror movies because they put characters in danger, but if you don’t really care about/get to know them, then it’s a wasted exercise. I enjoyed the film, but some moments would have been heightened simply had I known more about certain people.
However, I will say that the ending is satisfying and carries with it some not so subtle religious undertones, which is interesting because of the way the film handles religion earlier. There is actually a really poignant moment during the final showdown, which I had to watch twice to make sure that I had seen what I thought I’d seen. While “Stake Land” isn’t perfect or prophetic, it’s a more than competent genre exercise. It’s only drawback is that it has come after so many others, that it seems like it’s simply retreading old territory. If you can get past the fact, and if you’re in the mood for a movie like this, then it’s pretty darn good.
Splinter is a fun and nasty little movie about a small group of people fighting off a parasitic organism. It’s an incredibly simple premise, a classic horror movie plot with the usual characters, but the special effects really make this film shine. If you don’t like blood and gore, and Cronenberg style “body horror” you probably won’t like this movie. But seeing as I really dig that stuff, I’m recommending this film for all horror fans. In fact, I’m even a bit sad that it’s not available on Netflix instant anymore because I am really craving this movie.
Small, contained horror movies like this usually involve a small cast of characters who don’t get along from the get-go and are suddenly thrown into a situation where they are trapped and fighting for their lives. Genre rules say that they must (sort of) work together in order to survive, and someone isn’t going to make it out. Well this film involves a couple who are carjacked by an escaped con and his girlfriend. As luck would have it, they end up at a gas station where something VERY BAD happened to the attendant.
So we start our contained horror story, as the group becomes trapped by a parasitic organism that grows splintery spikes (basically like a porcupine, only a LOT GROSSER) and begins to attack people and take over their dead bodies. The special effects of the creature are awesome, a lot of make-up and live puppetry going on here in really gross ways. It reminded me a lot of the effects in John Carpenter‘s “The Thing,” which in my opinion, featured some of the best/grossest creature effects ever recorded on film. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it or watch it in 10 or so parts on Youtube. But this creature, well, it’s sort of unclear what it is, but there’s no mistaking what it DOES, which is basically take over your body and contort your bones into ways they shouldn’t, while growing/attaching to other bodies and doing the same thing. Succumbing to it would be a really BAD way to go, let’s just say that.
Clocking in at 82 minutes, Splinter is a really enjoyable exercise in horror and tension. It’s got solid performances from its actors, a really great villian (played by Shea Whigham, who has now gone on to star/support in a bunch of roles), and a really gross, a great homage to the “Evil Dead,” and a gross and scary monster. There’s implications for a sequel, which I’d take anyday over the next Star Wars…
So I realize that Halloween has come and gone, so the season affection some might have for scary movies may have dissipated. However, I think there’s always a time for scary movies and winter time might be particularly good because it’s cold, you want to stay bundled up on the couch, and a scary movie that makes you cling to your blanket or another person is the perfect way to enjoy a cold day. Therefore, I’m giving you a recommendation that isn’t a horror movie by any means, but it’s a scary, creepy, and haunting movie that may have been overlooked by many because it’s in Spanish, lacks any number after it (it’s not Saw IXI or Final Destination XLM), and only made $7 million at the U.S. box office. I present to you, “The Orphanage.”
“The Orphanage” is a superbly well made mystery involving a woman, her son, and strange events that occur in the orphanage she and her husband have recently purchased. Although it’s rated R, there’s very little gore (except for a truly startling shot that I don’t assume will see coming) and it could pretty easily be a PG-13. What I’m trying to say is, you’re not watching “Hostel” you’re watching a GREAT ghost story. The film was produced by Guillermo Del Toro and has a lot of similarity to his film “The Devil’s Backbone“, which was also about an ancient haunted location.
There are a few things about the film that make it really effective. It’s got a great setting and much of the action takes place in and around the old orphanage. We see it in the opening shots of the film while it originally up and running, in great shots of children playing a game of hide and seek. The shot composition and lighting in this opening is fantastic. How the filmmaker’s use the game later on in the film is incredibly creepy and it shows that they really understand their story and their characters. The other great aspect of the film is its subtlety. It really allows the story to unfold without the use of “gotcha” moments. We journey with the main character to unlock the secrets of the orphanage and everything unfolds slowly, but with suspense, to create a really haunting story. Finally, as you will see at the end, everything that happens in the movie, happens for a reason. And not a silly stupid reason, but the ending makes sense because it’s completely plausible, involves its ghosts in just the right way and it doesn’t cheat the audience.
This film isn’t available on Netflix Instant but it’s well worth a DVD rental. Watch it with the lights off. Let yourself be sucked in and scared. Of course, an American remake is in the works and it’s totally unnecessary. So do yourself a favor and see the original film, which took a chance by trying to tell a simple, effective ghost story. See it now, don’t wait until next Halloween.