Posts filed under 'Reviews'

Film review: Phobia

An easy on the eyes and mind horror anthology from four Thai film-makers, Phobia never truly scares, but there are some fun jumps along the somewhat predictable way in these thinly-linked stories.

Thongkongtoon kicks off with the segment Happiness. A young girl is recovering from a broken leg in her flat, received when the taxi she was in collided with a pedestrian. Hiding from her landlady because her rent is in arrears her only form of communication with the outside world is her internet and mobile phone. When the internet packs up she begins to receive text messages from a complete stranger. Bored, she starts up a conversation, and after a series of stranger and stranger exchanges she wishes she listened to that revised and updated nugget of parental wisdom: never text strangers. Especially if they’re dead… This segment has no dialogue whatsoever, just the irritating buzz of the mobile as messages come in, off-set by the steady build-up of a claustrophobically threatening atmosphere as the ghost decides he wants to meet up in the flesh. Thongkongtoon just manages to keep the single interior setting this side of tedious, but the inevitable pay-off did send a little shiver down my spine.

Tit for Tat, directed by Purikitpanya, might be a thirty minute extended pop-video, jam-packed with crazy cuts, colouring and frenetic nu metal riffs and beats. A classic story of bullying, what makes this a little different is the victim’s determination for revenge through black-magic, or something ritually similar. The gang members are dispatched in a series of enjoyable and gory set-pieces, and the threat of those on the other-side and what might lay in wait for us there is eerily depicted, albeit in rather unfortunate CGI. Of interest to some will be the modern echoes of M.R. James’ Casting the Runes and Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell fun-fest.

Pisanthanakun’s (one-half of the team behind Shutter) In The Middle centres around four friends rafting and camping in the jungle. Needless to say things go awry when they capsize and end up in the water. A self-referential humour that nods way too obviously towards feature films such as The Others and The Sixth Sense just about saves the proceedings from becoming too predictable and too sedentary, as the story and atmosphere is neither scary nor ground-breaking, just a little goofy.

The Last Fright, directed by Wongpoom (the second of the Shutter duo), is about an air stewardess who is asked to take the body of a recently deceased princess back to her homeland. On her own in the plane, the pilots locked away in the cockpit, she finds herself at the centre of a mid-air revenge haunting as the plane is rocked by heavy turbulence. Despite a clever storyline that comes full-circle with the details of the link between the stewardess and the princess steadily unfolding, our sympathies swaying back and forth with each reveal, it’s resolution is a (and here’s that word again) predictable dead-end.

Phobia, 2009

Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun / Paween Purikitpanya / Yongyoot Thongkongtoon / Parkpoom Wongpoom

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

Add comment January 2nd, 2011

Film review: The Objective

objectiveA well-intentioned supernatural covert-ops thriller from the writer of The Blair Witch Project that may culminate in frustration for some, as the ending is speculative to say the least. On the other hand, there are those of us who appreciate such room for interpretation, and The Objective cannot be accused of being anything but original given the recent trend towards inept war/horror movies such as the tedious Red Sands and the atrocious Zombies of War.

The Objective of the title is itself cloaked in mystery as CIA Agent Ben Keynes is assigned a small Special Ops team to locate and interview a local mystic. This old man may or may not know about the massive radioactive heat signature discovered by satellites deep in an unforgiving terrain of mountains and desert. It becomes apparent that this search is only a part of Keynes’ mission, but whether or not he knows the reasons behind the team’s steady disintegration as they travel deeper into the wilderness is also unclear.

the_objectiveWhat is clear is the formula Myrick has chosen to apply to The Objective: this is The Blair Witch Project without trees (and witches). He develops a gradual unease as the lost group stumble across wooden triangles stuck in the barren landscape, possibly placed as warnings. Water turns to dust in their canteens and they see vague shimmering shapes in the distance, hazy figures walking into the triangular phenomena before ascending into the sky. As they are picked off one-by-one by a rarely seen force that literally disintegrates its victims (its geometries looking like something that might have come from a mind-meld of pseudo-scientist and new-age sf maverick Eric Von Daniken, and H.P.Lovecraft) the team is no nearer knowing what it is supposed to be doing.

The Objective suffers by its director’s reputation, and by comparison to the aforementioned Blair Witch Project, but it is relatively well-acted and fresh enough to be worthy of your time. Having said that, I’d like to see this script worked into a short story or novella – the reader would undoubtedly enjoy a more subtle and gritty supernatural experience that would make a much greater and longer-lasting impression, as suggestion is often more effective on the page than on screen.

The Objective, 2009

Directed by Daniel Myrick

1 comment July 21st, 2010

Book review:Apartment 16, by Adam Nevill

apartment-16With the exception of a handful of short stories consistently high in quality and spookiness, Adam Nevill‘s singular voice has been quiet in the six years since the publication of his debut novel Banquet for the Damned, which was released as a collectable slipcased hardback by PS Publishing, and more recently in paperback format through the lamentably short-lived Virgin Books horror line which Nevill helmed.

Those years of whispering silence have been fruitful as his second novel, Apartment 16 (plus a third, in-progress), have been picked up by publishing giant Pan MacMillan – an occurrence that (hopefully) has all sorts of positive implications for the genre in this country. A BIG UK publisher buying titles by a UK author? Not something that’s happened since, well, since the days of Clive Barker, and before him, Ramsey Campbell and James Herbert (synchronistically Nevill’s stablemate in horror at Pan MacMillan). From that ‘golden age’ and all that’s gone between (most of it not so nice if you’re a UK-based horror fan or writer) to now is a big gap in time, so whether you like it or not, these facts make Apartment 16 an important novel, and Adam Nevill an important writer who, I’m happy to say, establishes his status amongst today’s outstanding creators of speculative horror with Apartment 16.

Banquet for the Damned is a tale of drop-outs, demonology, shamanism and anthropology, and Nevill parades his influences proudly with every dark paragraph: Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James and Arthur Machen amongst others; and the book’s setting in the grounds of St. Andrews University in Edinburgh allows Nevill to indulge in the arcane atmosphere that academia lends to stories of this nature. In Apartment 16, Nevill again arms himself with these unsettling influences but this time embeds them brick by brick within the (on the surface) classic setting of an apartment block in central London, Barrington House, and then allows them to infiltrate the local environs.

Barrington House brings together two young people from completely different worlds. Seth is a frustrated artist who has taken the job of night porter; a role that naturally appeals to those with a creative bent: not much responsibility beyond sitting at a desk and patrolling the corridors at regular intervals and trying one’s best to ignore the irritating residents – the intervening time spent ‘creating’. (And on reading, it will come as no surprise that Nevill spent a good few years doing just this when he was writing Banquet for the Damned). Seth and the residents of Barrington house are haunted by the noises echoing down the corridors from the depths of apartment 16.

Apryl is an American staying for a couple of weeks to tidy up the affairs of her Great Aunt Lillian who recently passed away, leaving Apryl and her mother the substantial inheritance of an apartment in Barrington House. Apryl soon becomes obsessed with Lillian’s story, beautifully depicted in the mementos and memories she finds in Lillian’s flat, the clothes left behind, and a series of notebooks that painfully and mysteriously describe her last days, and of her heartbreak at her husband’s death:

Highgate and the Heath are entirely lost to me now. I have accepted this. I went there to remember so many of the walks we took together. But they will have to live on in memory alone. And I haven’t seen St. Paul’s in at least six months. I cannot get near the city. It is too difficult. After my episode on the underground, I have sworn off travelling below ground. The breathlessness and anxiety may be acute outdoors in the street, but they are doubly so below ground in those tight tunnels. Even my afternoons at the Library and British Museum in Bloomsbury are in jeopardy.

Nevill fluently depicts the supernatural atmosphere and how it has manifested across the years in the psychological and physical breakdowns of Barrington House’s stubborn and scared elderly residents (lending them and the House a colourful history that captures the antiquity of the genre we love so much within the very souls of the residents), and how it does so in the rather desperate lives of those younger characters who serve the House’s ageing population, the porters.

His writing shows an almost perfect melding of the old and the new: the raw atmospherics of Blackwood, the subtle and oh so terrifying nearly-glimpsed horrors on the periphery of M.R. James’ and H.P. Lovecraft’s imaginations; the masterly development of buildings and environments as characters and vessels, (much in the same way as Stephen King’s infamous Overlook Hotel’s room 217 channels Jack Torrance’s psychological deterioration in The Shining); and a cutting contemporary miserablism describing everyday urban hopelessness that is as grim and inevitable as the spiral into which Seth and Apryl find themselves descending. Put simply, he writes damn unsettling prose:

And after he gathered his breath, his balance, his shaky sense of place and self, he noticed the background in which the figure was suspended. This peformance of violence and fragmentation was nothing without the depths behind it. Baboon-snouted and eyeless, but horribly twisted in the vestment of a floral housecoat, bloddied and still moist, the figure hung upon complete darkness. A total absence that still managed to transmit the cold of deep space and the ungraspable length and breadth of forever.

Apartment 16 is a deeply disturbing hypnotic experience exploring obsessions taken to extremes and beyond, and Adam Nevill has an imagination that rends itself into pure darkness for our reading pleasure.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

  • Read Joseph D’Lacey’s in-depth interview with Adam Nevill here at Horror Reanimated which also provides more information on Banquet for the Damned.

1 comment May 6th, 2010

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

Let’s go play at the Adams’ by Mendal Johnson: Book report by JD’L (only 35 years late…)

lgpataThose of you with your fingers on the Horror Reanimated pulse – er, I mean flatline – will know I rarely review books. However, every now and again something truly unique comes along. Mendal Johnson’s Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ is one of those books.

It’s difficult to attract attention to a novel without ruining its mystique but that’s my aim with this post. This is an unmissable read.

1974 was a good year for horror. Carrie was published and so was this little frightener. One of the authors went on to greater works, greater wealth and greater fame. The other was dead within two years. Interestingly, both men had trouble with alcohol. In Johnson’s case it was the death of him; he succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver. And, whereas King is wonderfully prolific, Johnson died leaving only three unfinished manuscripts. He was 48.mendaljohnson2


The plot: Bobby and Cindy’s parents go on holiday for a week, leaving a pretty babysitter named Barbara in charge. Along with their friends John, Dianne and Paul, the kids call themselves Freedom Five. They’ve been playing games together for years. The day after the parents leave, Freedom Five ‘capture’ Barbara and a new game begins.

I don’t want to say too much about the story. If you have a genuine interest in dark fiction, you should read the book. Here, in glorious black on white, is torture porn from thirty-five years ago. I expected it to be badly handled and poorly written. Neither was the case. Mendal Johnson wrote in tight, measured prose which is, on occasion, beautiful to read. This wasn’t just a book of vicarious thrills either – though, believe me, they are there if you want them – it was an examination of the psychology of children, and therefore, of our own. Each character is fully and tragically realised; their logic and the logic of the novel itself, though twisted, is always rightly fulfilled. The pace and plotting is near to flawless, tension rising all the time. The moment you put the book down, you want to pick it up again and, if you have the time, it’s one of those you could read in a sitting – if you can handle it.

I’m not saying LGPATA is an accurate appraisal of your average child’s mind. Freedom Five are a little isolated. They are a little odd. A situation arises in which their earlier games together can be explored further. One thing leads to another and group ‘morality’ overcomes the morality of the individual. But what I’m also not saying is that these things never happen. They do and it’s well documented. Cases occurred before the book was written and many more have occurred since. And that, perhaps, is what makes the book so utterly chilling. Whether victim or perpetrator, it could be your child. It could have been you. Maybe it was. Who is really prepared to speak of the questionable things we did in our ‘innocent’ youth?

mendaljohnsonThis author, for one, is.

For a truly in depth look at the life of Mendal Johnson and more background about the novel – read it first, if you don’t want it spoiled – there’s a brilliant 3-part blog covering it all right here.

7 comments November 12th, 2009

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

Film Review: Colin

colin-zombieA new independent British zombie film following in the footsteps of the adequate The Zombie Diaries, and the more polished, if unseen to date, The Dead Outside (will someone please give these guys a DVD deal? In fact, put all three movies into a cool little box-set please), Colin has been touted around with the story of a £45 budget spent on tea and biscuits. If that’s true then all well and good, but the film itself certainly stands up to geek analysis without the aid of a gimmicky marketing campaign, and will receive a deserved short run and DVD release in October.

Colin is the eponymous central character whom we meet returning home one afternoon. It soon becomes apparent there’s anarchy in the streets of Wandsworth, South London as gunshots and explosions fill the City air and he washes his blood-soaked hands and knife. Colin has been bitten and after fighting off his flatmate we witness his inevitable un-birth. The film then follows our hero around the streets of London as he slowly descends into a state of fully-fledged zombie. For a zed geek like me this is one of the most interesting aspects of the film as, initially, Colin appears to have a certain amount of intelligence to his actions, maybe considering whether or not to tuck into some easily available flesh as the more developed around him flood the streets and chase down the unfortunate survivors.

Colin wanders around, occasionally chowing down, mostly on the already dead, possibly learning from the actions of the others. There are some interesting victims, notably the man who is being eaten alive while he listens to his MP3 player, a gadget which attracts Colin’s attention for a while. There are a couple of episodes where our hero disappears amongst the whole zombie horde, such as the time when he stumbles into a townhouse where four students are fending off a whole front room of the undead. As sheer weight of numbers overwhelms them the scene does actually become fairly harrowing and only one girl escapes. We follow her as she breaks into a seemingly disused garage where a sleazy bloke seems to be torturing zombies by removing their eyes. Again, it’s an intense scene, but its effect is somewhat dampened by the fact you can’t see what’s going on most of the time, and it’s so unexpected and jarring when set against the carnage in the streets. Director Marc Price should be commended for trying something a little different with these interludes, and with Colin being almost totally from an undead perspective.

Price also succeeds with his decision to introduce a sub-plot wherein his sister realises he’s a zombie, and with some mates captures him in an effort to see if he can remember who he is was/is. These poignant scenes are well balanced by her mates’ dislike for Colin in his current state, and the decision they must make when it becomes obvious he cannot be ‘returned’. (Another geek note of interest – apparently, immersing a zed’s head in a bath of water will calm it down temporarily).

Colin is surprisingly well-acted given the majority of its cast were recruited via Facebook and MySpace, although it helps that the majority of the film is without dialogue, and where there is speech it is mostly experienced from Colin’s point-of-view. Being sympathetic to a central character is a prerequisite of most films; the viewer’s interaction with Colin is no different as we know just enough about him to care and as the story unfolds and he descends into a new form of life this sympathy only increases.

Reviewed by Mathew F. Riley

Add comment October 25th, 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

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