Posts filed under 'Film Reviews'

Film review: Zombies of War, by Mathew F. Riley

zombiesofwarThe zombie Nazi film sub-genre is, like everything else these days, not the obscure, difficult to discover (and fund) thing it once was. The atmospheric Outpost (although, were they really zombies, or ghosts, or…?), and the blood-drenched zombedy Dead Snow both made positive contributions to the list that began with Shockwaves back in 1977 and then all but expired with the mouldy cheese that was Oasis of the Zombies (1981) and Zombie Lake (1981).

The most recent addition to the canon (although it was made in 2006) is the ultimately disappointing Zombies of War (as it’s known in the UK on DVD; Horrors of War elsewhere). Many of the reviews on the Internet Movie Database have referred to ZoW as being referential to the ‘classic’ B war movies of old, but, you know, arguably there’s not much call for this sort of approach these days, (unless you’re Tarantino), so as someone states, why bother?

ZoW has a plot that is pure cliché, as admittedly do pretty much all of the Nazi/war zombie films (with the exception of Dead Snow): the war is going badly for the Germans; they do some occult research; make a few scientists do some taboo research on prisoners and willing, brainwashed volunteers – the result being ‘secret super soldiers’ that they are convinced will change the course of the war. Except they won’t, we all know that, as a team of Allied troops are parachuted in behind enemy lines to nip the esoteric experiments in the bud.

The Germans in ZoW have absolutely no chance when you consider there are only two or three of these super soldiers dotted around the countryside as far as the viewer can tell. They take a couple of shots to the head to put down, and, oh yes, the US infantryman who is attacked and turned by a werewolf (!) early on in proceedings, ends up being very influential in the final battle. In fact, you don’t come across a zombie until about forty minutes into the film, the first few scenes of action being wholly and strangely lycanthrope-orientated and set in the same stretch of woods, despite hours of marching.

Can one recommend a film based upon some of its ideas alone? Not in this case unfortunately, although something in me does like the idea of partisan werewolves attacking Nazi zombies; and a bigger occult picture is hinted at, but I guess, budgets dictated otherwise. ZoW could have been a fun experience, given a much bigger budget, better and tighter storyline and directed by an auteur such as Tarantino or his mate, Rodriguez.

ZoW has obviously been re-titled to take advantage of chumps like me who snap up anything zed-related, so it is my important duty to advise you to avoid at all costs, not just because of the lack of convincing acting, the average special effects, but mainly because Zombies of War doesn’t know what it is.

Zombies of War, 2006

Directed by John Whitney and Peter John Ross

Add comment April 23rd, 2010

Film review: Pandorum, by Mathew F. Riley

bowerIt happens less frequently than I’d like; a contented glow of time well-spent: 103 minutes of hybrid sf/horror that one is happy to place alongside peers such as Event Horizon, the Alien series, The Dark Hour, Pitch Black and…, well there aren’t many more to add to that list. Pandorum is a prime example of learning from what’s gone before and upping the ante to create an effectively tense and challenging experience with an originality all of its own.

Many years from now, as the Earth becomes a nuclear battleground for ownership of its failing resources, the Elysium is sent into deep space with a cargo of 60,000 sleeping people and the DNA of most of the planet’s flora and fauna; a modern ark, maintained by several crews who will be woken-up in turn as the years pass, bound for the single planet that has been identified as earth-like, Tanis; their mission, to start again.

pandorumAstronauts Bower and Peyton, from Team 5, wake from their hyper-slumbers into a world of claustrophobic darkness: the Elysium is shutting down, its reactor gradually slowing and the power drained from all but the most basic of functions. Added to this is the memory-loss that long-term sleepers suffer upon waking – and they’ve been asleep a long, long time; and the increasing threat of mental breakdown and violent paranoia – Pandorum. As Bower explores the ship, attempting to make his way to the reactor he encounters several other survivors turned feral, and a race of possibly mutated and ferociously ravenous savages straight out of The Descent/Ghosts of Mars creature blender.

So what’s new, I hear you cry. Nothing much if I’m honest, but as I wrote above Pandorum takes certain tropes and specific elements from the sf/horror sub-genre and convincingly makes them its own. The atmosphere and cinematography are downright grimy, the Elysium is Nostromo’s big brother – all its corridors are dank and dripping after years of decay. None of the crews have been around to maintain the ship’s vast, maze-like structure and systems. The creatures are hyper-violent, scuttling across the corroding surfaces of the cavernous Elysium, and although the reason for their being there is rather nebulously explained, their presence and constant stalking threat ramps up the tension to almost unbearable levels á la The Descent.

pandorum3The gradual return of Bower and Peyton’s personal and professional memories, combined with the stories of the survivors, develop into a history of the last moments of the human race on Earth, the breakdown of the crew of the Elysium, and a desperate fight for its future in a colossal sleeper-ship that knows it’s time to die.

As with The Dark Hour, Pandorum’s ending is wonderfully surprising, powerfully apt and contrasts completely with what’s gone before. It allows for a sequel, (although it’s unlikely as it didn’t perform well in cinemas), but they should leave it as it is: a clever, terrifying and uplifting film that will surely develop a cult following on DVD.

Pandorum, 2009

Directed by Christian Alvart

1 comment March 17th, 2010

Film review: Antichrist

antichrist-posterYou’ll no doubt have encountered the furore this movie has generated over the past few months and while I’m loath to add to the noise, I don’t think it’s possible to not have a debate over a film of this nature. Although divided into several chapters with titles including Grief, Pain and Despair, for me, Antichrist is a film of two parts: the first two-thirds and the final third; this latter segment no doubt being responsible for its seeming adoption or alignment by and with the horror genre.

Antichrist commences with an extended scene, shot in black and white, and set to a classical soundtrack. No dialogue, just detailed slow-motion shots of the flat in which the Man and the Woman (the characters are unnamed and I’ll not mention the actor and actresses names either) are making love, and (ooh how controversial) a single second scene of penetration. During this activity their young son walks down the stairs, climbs onto a desk and falls out of the window. It’s a memorable, simple and stylish way to begin a film that soon loses itself in analysis, atmosphere and ambiguity.

The Man is a therapist who feels he knows more about his wife’s bereavement and guilt issues than the staff at the hospital, so he discharges her, taking care of her at home; a move which soon comes across as selfish, as the woman increasingly feels like an experimental subject. Perhaps in response she demands increasingly physical sex and self-harms as the influence of nature gradually manifests itself and her guilt grows. The Man decides they should spend time at their utterly remote cabin in the woods, Eden, where the Woman spent time writing her dissertation on medieval misogyny and where, we find out, she fell into believing what she was writing about, rather than critiquing it.

Von Trier dedicates the film to Andrei Tarkovsky, the famed Russian Director of Andrei Rublev, Stalker and Solaris among others, and it’s with these last two films that Antichrist resonates the most as von Trier utilises several of Tarkovsky’s filmic techniques such as long, uninterrupted scenes, and the black and white dialogue free passages. Like Tarkvosky, Von Trier in Antichrist has given the earth, nature, the elements and the animal kingdom, an alien and ambiguous intelligence that seeps into the minds of the Man and the Woman so that their time sent in Eden becomes a wildly surging series of experiences and emotions: as the cabin’s tin roof is constantly bombarded with acorns from the huge trees it sits beneath; in harsh, visceral and surreal encounters with crows and a talking fox (which I found extremely powerful and perfect within that segment of the film, as opposed to many who have simply laughed).

As the Woman experiences the highs and lows of self-realisation it is the Man, the therapist, who appears most-affected as the landscape becomes an immense primal force that overwhelms them both; as he works with her to overcome her fear of the grass that swirls around the cabin, he is seeing visions that warn him of impending chaos. It is here where Antichrist veers away from what I took, (wanted?), to be an intriguing, ambitious exploration into the nature of nature and its influence on our relationships, towards a graphic depiction of torture and survival rooted in the deep mental illness resulting from a child’s death. Driven on by their surroundings, unable to cope with the sheer size of the environment and their emotions, their physical relationship intensifies into matrimonial violence: genital mutilations being the worst of many outrages inflicted upon and by each other.

The furore surrounding Antichrist has been mostly about its easy to criticise elements: the sex, the violence, its so-called pretentiousness, von Trier’s reputation and even his supposed attitude towards women. I bet even von Trier isn’t sure what he’s trying to say some of the time but, for me, Antichrist is an extremely brave film; as with Tarkovsky’s works, its attempts to depict this unknowable and unquantifiable world we live in and the unpredictable and unfathomable ways we humans relate to it and to each other, are absolutely open to debate and interpretation, and that’s the point. Two-thirds wonderful.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

Add comment November 7th, 2009

THE SUBSTITUTE (VIKAREN) 2008 – Review by Elaine Lamkin

thesubstitutedanishdvd-8-28-09THE SUBSTITUTE

Directed by Ole Bornedal

Written by Ole Bornedal and

Henrik Prip

(Review contains spoilers!)

I had to watch this Danish film twice to make sure I was correct in my initial reaction to it. This film, about a substitute teacher (actually a chicken farmer’s wife who is infected, almost “SLiTHER”-style, by an alien spore) and her wary class of 6th graders is freakin’ hilarious!!

When Ulla Harms (the delightful and delightfully named Paprika Steen) shows up to sub for a teacher who has come down with salmonella poisoning, the students are horrified at how she insults the kids: one boy has buck teeth – she tells him to correct something on the blackboard but be careful not to trip over his teeth on the way. And when she finds something funny, there is no holding back her mirth – she guffaws almost to the point where someone REALLY needs to slap her or she will piddle on herself.

One of her students, the withdrawn and picked-upon Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) who lost his mother recently in a car accident, starts to notice things about Ulla that just don’t add up. How she read his mind in class, how she knew every student’s name without consulting any sort of seating chart, how she just…knew everything (the students started quizzing her with complex math equations which she promptly answered, adding “Everyone knows that.”). During recess, Carl sees Ulla standing in front of a window, completely “switched-off”. Oooeeeeoooo!!thesubstitutedvd-8-26-09

Other strange things occur when things aren’t going Ulla’s way – her first day in class, the students are fighting when every single one of their cell phones go off plus she has the ability to change what comes out of a student’s mouth, if it’s an insult to Ulla. My favorite was when poor Albert of the teeth (Jakob Fals Nygaard) tries to call Ulla a “cruel monster” and it kept coming out as “cool hamster”.

At a hastily called parent-teacher meeting, when Ulla is running late, Carl observes her with her satchel and a strange large silver ball. And what he sees that ball do… Well, you will just have to check this movie out.

The children gather the courage to break into Ulla’s home which is deserted, unlived-in, with huge piles of broken furniture in every room. While there, Ulla returns home and the students manage to avoid her until she decides to have some “lunch”. The kids run screaming from her house. Of course, later that evening when the students are tyring to get their parents to understand what they saw, the parents decide to pay Ulla a visit and, naturally, the house is immaculate and beautifully decorated. Carl’s friend, Philip (Nikolaj Falkenberg-Klok) even whispers to Carl that he knew this would happen.

thesubstitutechickenroomstudents-8-28-09Slowly, the parents of the students come to adore Ulla and in a particularly hilarious scene, after the 6th graders have earned a trip to Paris with their crazy teacher, it is every 6th grader for themself, fighting getting on the bus, fighting their parents – you just have to see it. Everyone calms down, though, when Carl’s father, Jesper (Ulrich Thomsen) announces that since the original bus driver was sick from salmonella poisoning (detecting a pattern here?) and Jesper knows how to drive a bus, the students reluctantly board the bus but the shots of them with their faces pressed to the windows, saying “goodbye” to their parents is also funny – they act as though they are “walking the Green Mile”.

I could tell you a LOT more about this little gem of a movie: the mysterious map Carl finds, the ooga-booga moment Carl has when Ulla comes to have dinner with him and his father (who Ulla seems to have designs on), Ulla’s family’s past and the REAL reason Ulla is there, as well as the final scene between Ulla and Carl and a “pressing machine” at the chicken farm, but you should really enjoy it without too many spoilers. Very funny with some unexpected scares, very original and Ulla can be downright creepy. And then there are the chickens…

thesubstituteullastudents-8-28-09One word of advice: I have read several viewer complaints about how badly dubbed this movie is. Well, a simple solution to THAT “problem” is, when setting up the film, click on Danish Dolby instead of English Dolby and you will get an undubbed film with English subtitles. Problem solved,

Review by Elaine Lamkin

August 2009

3 comments September 7th, 2009

Film Review: Red Sands

redsands2dRed Sands is Alex Turner’s follow-up to the undeniably eerie Dead Birds, an American civil war period piece, involving a squad of soldiers coming across a terrifying house situated in a field of corn, haunted by vaguely Lovecraftian horrors. In Red Sands Turner takes the same set-up and updates it to Afghanistan, placing a unit of American soldiers in an isolated location and spooking them out with a series of strange phenomena and bloody deaths; except, this time it doesn’t work.

Charged with seizing and then monitoring an important road the soldiers get lost due to some random artillery fire, come across some ruins and out of boredom (regardless of the fact they’ve just been attacked) set about shooting up the statues carved in the sides of the red sandstone hills. This act of ignorance unleashes a Djinn which then takes its revenge on the soldiers.  We know it’s a Djinn because there’s a plaque in the stone that says so.

The problem with Red Sands is that at the very beginning of the film you are shown who survives, and because you also know what’s shape-shifting and taking on the appearance of those it kills, causing hallucinations and generally making their stay in a strangely abandoned stone house uncomfortable (especially as the radio is unusable and the jeep’s engine is mysteriously ripped out) there’s absolutely no intrigue, suspense or surprise to the experience.

The shallow and clichéd characters of the soldiers are played by the numbers (why does every radio operator have glasses, and be literately nerdy?) The shadowy interior setting of the house is way too dark to see any detail; and there is a tired re-use of ideas from Dead Birds – a lot of the decent effects are dark, hollow eyes and wide gaping mouths of those victims sucked dry by the Djinn; admittedly they are scary the first time around, but if you’ve seen them once…

Ultimately, and unfortunately because I really wanted to like it, Red Sands is a disappointing and predictable film.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

[This review was originally published in the Spring 09 edition of Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society]

Add comment September 3rd, 2009

Film Review: Dead Wood

dead_woodA small budget movie with relatively big aspirations, Dead Wood was given a highly-rated review in DVD World recently – the same magazine that recommended Dead Birds a couple of years ago. I picked up Dead Wood hoping to repeat the satisfying experience of discovering a little known horror gem. Alas, ‘twas not to be.

There’s a strong if fairly unoriginal plot forming the foundations of Dead Wood. A brief prologue shows us a man running through the woods, pursued by something unseen, the woods alive with movement. He comes to a small river and hesitates and that proves his undoing. His girlfriend is left shouting his name as the woods darken around her. We then jump to a couple playing matchmakers for a weekend, taking their shy but mutually attracted friends camping. On the way they run over a deer and as it lays there in convulsions, they make what they consider to be the correct and humane decision, and finish it off.

Dead Wood, an independent UK production, mixes up a little Blair Witch, a possessed Asian girl with yep, long-dark hair and staring eyes, and some spliff-induced hallucinations. The atmosphere grows heavy as the four lose themselves in the woods, stumble across a rotting tent and welcome a complete stranger, (the girlfriend from the prologue) into their midst rather too naively.

I was reminded of the scenes in Evil Dead as something rushes through the trees bearing down on the campers and… and, to be honest, there are far too many references to influential horror films crammed in here, so that Dead Wood loses itself amongst the trees, as does the average acting, and the panoramic ( and possibly) stock footage of vast forests into which the group definitely did not drive. This is a shame, because when it finally gets going (40 minutes into its total running time of 82) there are some interesting and spooky manifestations of a green environment with a lust for the red stuff.

Frustratingly the reasons behind the woods going after the campers are never explained; maybe it’s a Long Weekend nature’s revenge scenario due to the deer fatality, or possibly just because the woods themselves are bad, or haunted, or polluted, or…

Regardless of some effective tree transformations á la The Guardian, Dead Wood is a trying and tedious experience for such a short trip.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

[This review was originally published in the Spring 09 edition of Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society]

1 comment July 22nd, 2009

Film review: The Disappeared

disappearedSix month’s after his brother Tom’s disappearance, Matthew Ryan is released from the care home his father placed him in to recover. But life is no easier for Matthew now he’s back in the family council flat on a grey South London estate. His father, Jake, silently seethes, a violent man staying just this side of violence, blaming his oldest so for the loss of his youngest. Matthew was partying whilst his brother wandered off. The local paper’s reporter is trying to dig up some dirt on the unsolved case; the social worker and local vicar are putting in the tuppence-worth, and all Matthew wants to do is to be left alone to do… well, what does one do when you don’t know if your brother’s alive or dead, and you know you were to blame?

The Disappeared captures the grim reality that, for some, is life on a London council estate, with its peer pressures, gangs and neighbours too close for comfort, stained concrete and shadowed passageways, killing time and hope for all but the most determined. And Matthew is determined. Harry Treadaway’s portrayal of a guilt-ridden, scared and lonely teenager, but one with a backbone of decency and sympathy is outstanding and vital. His relationship with Jake, his dad, verges on the unbearable as the viewer just wants them to communicate with each other, just talk why don’t you? But Jake is in a far darker place than his son, a place for adults only. The filmmakers’ collective vision of the Ryans’ flat is soul-destroying in itself, a set of bleak, stained rooms with paper-thin walls, effectively dampening the trapped emotions of father and son.

Matthew watches recorded television coverage of the news conferences and his dad’s desperate appeals on the old VHS. On one of these old tapes Matthew hears his name being whispered. Tom’s voice, he’s sure. It happens again. Circumstances contrive to prevent him playing the tape to his sceptical best mate, the refreshingly raw and begrudgingly loyal Simon, (played by Tom Felton, most famous for his role as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). His off-hand comment sets Matthew off down the route of reluctant and self-questioning amateur paranormal investigator as he sets up an old cassette recorder to capture a bit of the old Electronic Voice Phenemona. The voice is there again, this time with a new message. Matthew starts to see his brother around the estate, and when Simon’s sister goes missing, he feels he has no choice but to follow his instinct, and the voices, whatever the consequences.

The Disappeared is a contemporary urban ghost story. It’s been likened toThe Omen and The Sixth Sense in some of the press I’ve read, but to my mind, it’s also possible to trace influences way back to the good old, and very British days, of Hammer and Amicus, and that’s not a bad thing at all, but to say more would be to give the plot away. There are a couple of hokey effects designed to show the true nature of the abductor, but on the whole, these don’t detract from Matthew’s ghostly, and carefully placed, encounters.

It’s a haunted area, this part of London, says one of the characters. Director Johnny Kevorkian and cinematographer Diego Rodriguez draw a satanic map around a particular area of South London, from the concrete gothic of Matthew’s estate, to the wind-swept docks, and surrounding woods hiding decaying secret tunnels and their ancient contents. These places aren’t only haunted by spectres from the distant and not so distant past, as certain of today’s disaffected youth would no doubt tell you.

In The Disappeared, every shadow’s a hoodie, every alcove a chance to hide, or to pounce, and it’s in these shadows that Kevorkian, Murphy and Rodriguez revel, imbuing the 70s architecture with teasing messages, relayed by very modern ghosts.

The Disappeared is an adept depiction of sharp and honest dysfunctional dynamics, clammy-palm scares, occult secrets, brooding emotions and environments, escalating into a subterranean fight for life and justice for those beyond physical help.

Go and see The Disappeared at the ICA from June 19th onwards. June 22nd has a special showing with the Director and stars, hosted by Alan Jones of Frightfest.

The Disappeared, 2008
Director: Johnny Kevorkian

Add comment June 20th, 2009

Film review: Martyrs

martyrs_box_art_2dThis is the film that has caused a media-frenzy over the last few months. It was virtually banned in France, as the powers that be slapped an 18+ classification on it – although an appeal saw that reduced to a 16. Last year’s August Frighfest gave it a UK premiere, (which is where I saw it and originally reviewed it for Quiet Earth), and it’s about to receive a straight-to-DVD release in the US, having been picked up by the Weinstein company.

In the 1970s Lucie was abducted and held captive for a year in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The doctors could find no evidence of sexual abuse, suggesting something other than the instant gratification usually associated with abduction cases. After her escape Lucie lives in a care home, where she meets Anna, herself a victim of abuse, who becomes her best friend and confidant. But Lucie is haunted by guilt that violently manifests as the emaciated woman whom she left behind in order to save herself.

Fifteen years later, and Lucie has managed to trace those she believes abducted her. Alone, she visits the couple, who now have a family, and exacts graphic, unmerciful shotgun revenge. Anna arrives to help Lucie hide the bodies, harbouring doubts that these are the people who abused her best friend, but beneath the house she discovers a series of hi-tech rooms and whitewashed corridors, adorned with back-lit images of women, young and old, dying in various different circumstances.

Who do you go to build something like that? This set-up is a pretty specific piece of subterranean engineering with an obviously unwholesome intent. It soon becomes clear that the people Lucie has murdered were part of a larger circle; a secret society who have enough money to guarantee silence, and it’s in these pristine purpose-built surroundings that Martyrs sets off on a grim journey through extremely dark places to eventual enlightenment, as Anna becomes their next victim.

Martyrs will most likely be compared to the Hostel films, and those other French fancies: Switchblade Romance, Frontiers and Inside, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, there’s a secret society that abducts, tortures and ultimately murders innocents, but the elderly patrons of this particular group have very specific reasons for targeting women only; and it’s via this shared and secret obsession that Martyrs transforms into a brutal quest for knowledge that, in the view of this particular sect, or cult, can only be gained through disciplined abuse and torture. The inference is that there is a close network of members and locations dotted throughout France, each with their own subjects, each subject being forced to go through the same unspeakable regime, towards the same end.

Martyrs delivers true hopelessness as Anna is subjected to an unrelenting programme of suffering. This fifteen minute sequence is astonishing and painful to watch. I just wanted it to end, and quickly, but for Anna, it lasts months and only leads to other levels of preparation for what she must face. This sequence is not meant to be enjoyed, on any level.

The sect’s quasi-religious thirst for the unknowable ultimately saves Martyrs from falling victim to its own gory excesses, which in the first two-thirds of the film are considerable, and on a par with the bloody events seen in the aforementioned films. But Martyrs isn’t a torture-porn film in the Hostel sense of the term, far from it. Those films, and Hostel especially, are about killing for the sake of killing. Martyrs has a reason for every piece of its protagonists’ pain.

You may love it or absolutely hate it; and almost without exception, Martyrs has divided the opinions of critics and genre fans. It’s not a film that you can or should enjoy on certain levels, but it is there to be experienced. Immediately upon leaving the cinema I sat not knowing what to write as I couldn’t get the taste of that prolonged scene out of my mouth, out of my head, it affected me that much, and I had to delay writing the review for a couple of days in order to gain a considered, rather than reactionary, perspective.

So, several months after viewing the film my opinion has not changed, but other scenes have come to the fore as I’ve thought about it: the violent haunting of Lucie brings to mind the desperate struggles for survival in The Descent, but played out in her irretrievably damaged mind; the unquestioning, uncompromising and ultimately brutal friendship that Anna and Lucie share is at once touching and bewildering; the oft-criticised raison d’etre behind the cult can make or break the film for the viewer; it made it for me.

And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m ready to watch it again, this time as a fan of horror cinema, this time for a purely horrific, white-knuckled experience.

Pascal Laugier should be commended for giving us a film that is well-written, stylish and technically brilliant, thought-provoking and stomach-churning. Martyrs will become a genre classic, but as with The Last House on the Left,  it’ll be a long, hard and unforgiving road to transcendence.

Laugier’s now at the helm of the remake/re-imagining of Hellraiser, and, well, that seems like a good fit indeed.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

[Mathew's book reviews can also be found at Bookgeeks]

3 comments April 12th, 2009

Film Review: Dante 01

dante01affIn theory, all the ingredients that should make Dante 01 an effective science fiction / horror hybrid are present; but theory is very different from execution…

Director Marc Caro was one half of the innovative team behind the dark adult fairytales Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children; and his input to that successful collaboration is shown here as he runs solo for the first time: the claustrophobic steely cold environment, the lumbering spacesuits a la Sunshine; the shadowy ship, much like the Event Horizon.

The crucifix-shaped Space Station Dante 01 is a medical experiment; criminally-insane prisoners avoid the death penalty by agreeing to undergo drug trials and observation by a skeleton crew of scientists and security wardens. This uneasy arrangement is rocked when a new and unspeaking inmate, (Lambert Wilson, who played The Merovingian in The Matrix films), arrives under the care of a beautiful scientist, Elisa, who is under orders to test a new nanotechnology-based drug. The new prisoner, nicknamed Saint George, is apparently the sole survivor of an event that wiped out his crew and left him with the gift/curse of seeing inside people’s bodies. As Eliza’s drug kills the inmates, Saint George brings them back to life, seizing hold of the nano-tech virus and eating the infection, healing more than just the drug-induced illness. The prisoners and remaining staff must race against time to save themselves from the self-destructing ship and the determined Elisa.

The dialogue is appropriately minimal and the acting eerily intense; the entire cast is shaven-headed, the uniforms colour coded. Women are small and elegant; the men are huge, and craggy-faced, or physically twisted and manipulative. Characters’ names represent their actions: Charon the Prison Warden; Caesar the murderer; Lazarus, and so on. There are a couple of scenarios that should never have got past the draft scripting stage – why oh why would the emergency detonation shutdown switch be located beneath the prisoner’s quarters, at the far end of a corridor flooded by boiling water…?

Frustratingly, the event that shaped Saint George is not explained at all, not even hinted at. His talents are very much like a Sineater’s – taking on the sin of the deceased, but also moving into the God-like through resurrection and saintly silence, crying for the pain of others and the visions he experiences. This quasi-religious non-message begs explanation – just why is Saint George seeing what he is seeing, and what is his purpose? Unfortunately the film is simply too short, at 84 minutes, to answer these questions; the climactic scene is simply a repeated loop of special fx, that whilst technically spectacular and visually iconic, is far from informative and ultimately unsatisfying.

Still, Dante 01 is worth your time for its looks, quirks and impressive character acting, but it could have been so much more.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

[Mathew's book reviews can also be found at Bookgeeks. This review was originally published in the Winter 08/09 edition of Prism, the Newsletter of the British Fantasy Society]

Add comment February 25th, 2009

Film Review: The Dead Outside

tdo1Another twist on the zombie genre – a neurological pandemic has swept the United Kingdom, but those with the infection don’t die immediately, becoming increasingly incoherent, unstable and violent. The infection mutated, went airborne and the government’s so-called vaccine only slowed down the symptoms. The result: the infectious period was extended and the disease spread unnoticed and the virus wiped out most of the misinformed population. Six months later, and the landscape is littered with wandering psychopaths and scavenging survivors.

The Dead Outside has an overwhelming air of purposefully half-explained menace: the virus might still be airborne; touching the afflicted in any way might result in infection; the turned victims are after blood and attracted by noise, so living a quiet life becomes vital to survival. So what better place to be than in the Scottish borders? Sparsely populated, lots of space and plenty to eat if you find a suitably isolated farm and can grow your own. Which is exactly what Daniel does after his wife and child are infected. But he wakes up the next morning to find April peering down the barrel of a shotgun at him. Braehead is her family’s farm and she doesn’t exactly welcome strangers, not even healthy ones.

tdo2 The two put up with each other as they struggle to survive;  but there’s more to April than meets the eye. Why does she  spend nights outside the safety of the farmhouse on her  own, why does she shoot every infected person on sight,  burying them in the woods around the farm, and why hasn’t  she been infected by all this contact? When a third survivor  stumbles onto the farm, this fragile and untrusting dynamic  is threatened.

The Dead Outside shares the same main problem as The Zombie Diaries – a lack of turned plague victims, (in fact, if it were not for the differences in the disease and infected, these two films might almost be companion pieces), but Director Kerry Anne Mullaney’s choice of Dumfries and Galloway as a location tempers this accusation in two ways – naturally, there are less people here, and most impressively, the bleakness of the countryside is captured in the blues and blacks of the eerie dusk/night exterior shots, (when most of the action occurs). The area’s wet and dreary weather conditions, shown through deceptively simple, lingering shots of the farmyard, the surrounding fields and woods, and farm buildings going to ruin as nature reclaims them, more than makes up for the too-few, (but effectively savage), encounters with the infected.

Mullaney has crafted a rough-edged independent Post Apocalyptic gem: the dialogue is economical; the acting is convincing; the farmhouse’s rooms clogged full of a lifetime’s clutter constrict and suffocate those hiding within, eventually forcing them outside to face the truths behind April’s attachment to Braehead Farm.

The Dead Outside is a nervous and personal snapshot of the apocalypse, as the characters subtly probe eachtdo3 other’s motivations in an unforgiving, and tense environment. A is for Apocalypse, and Ambiguity, but also for Atmosphere and The Dead Outside literally drips with it.

Shot in two weeks, on a micro-budget, (the makers wouldn’t divulge the amount in their Frightfest Q&A session, due to the fact they’re trying to sell the film at the moment), The Dead Outside is a stylishly dark mood piece, and if The Zombie Diaries can do well in the straight-to-DVD market, The Dead Outside surely will, and deservedly so, as it is a prime example of thoughtful, twisted story-telling and aspirational independent film-making.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing The Dead Outside in cinemas or on DVD before too long. Check out the official trailer here.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

[Mathew's book reviews can also be found at Bookgeeks, and his film reviews at Quiet Earth. This review republished with permission of Quiet Earth. Original review here.]

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