Archive for horror

[Review] The Pact

Posted in Film with tags , , on June 26, 2012 by Icy Sedgwick

Horror films can sometimes be crap – and in some ways that’s almost part of their charm – but they should never, ever be boring. Unfortunately that is a charge I’m going to have to level at The Pact, Hollywood’s latest foray into supernatural horror. Or is it a thriller? One of its biggest problems is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be able to decide which it wants to be. While some films manage to blur the line between the two, The Pact alternates between them while ultimately failing to satisfy the criteria of both.

The film tells the story of Annie (Caity Lotz), a woman drawn back to the family home following the disappearance of her sister, Nicole. After her cousin Liz also disappears in the house following an evening of disturbing events, Annie feels compelled to find out exactly what happened. Enlisting the help of both the local cop (Caspar Van Dien, trying his best to pull off the gruff small town police officer) and an old high school acquaintance who happens to be psychic, Annie puts her detective hat on. Will she encounter ghoulies or ghosties? Or will she get drawn into a serial killer mystery? According to director/writer, Nicholas McCarthy, she can do both.

This is one of The Pact’s biggest failures – it can’t make up its mind what it is. It flirts with the idea of an over-religious movie (*cough* Carrie *cough*) and hints at a past of child abuse at the hands of the mother, but never fully explores either of these themes. If this is intended as misdirection on the part of the director, it fails spectacularly because the lack of answers is too distracting. Its set up as a supernatural film begins well, and there are a handful of neat moments scattered throughout the film (including the use of ‘Sheridan’ and ‘La Fanu’ as two of Nicole’s online contacts – Sheridan Le Fanu being famous for writing ghost stories), but they don’t work when tied into the serial killer plotline – indeed, the film totally forgets about the supernatural aspects at key points in the film, which just adds to a long line of plot inconsistencies (I’m confused as to why a photograph of a woman who died in 1989 would be used as a location photo on Google Maps).

Most of the plot revolves around Annie’s investigation of a secret buried within the house, and following in a long line of supernatural films, she must uncover a family secret. The Goblin-esque soundtrack that accompanies her investigation and the discovery of a hidden room associated with the past sins of the mother simply brought to mind Profondo Rosso – and if I’m honest, I’d rather just watch an Argento giallo. Much is made of new technology, and I was heartened to see that her usage of Google didn’t see the most useful web link appear at the top of her search results. She actually had to scroll down!

If I’m honest, it’s not all bad. The poster is rather interesting (although I’d dispute the bold claims about it being ‘scary’) and the set design adds a strong atmosphere of claustrophobia. There are some neat little touches scattered throughout the film, and the climactic sequence is really rather good – it’s just a pity that the rest of the film wastes this potential through its inconsistencies, and its inability to decide if it wants to investigate serial killers, or go ghost hunting. I would like to see another film from this director, but I’d hope that for his next effort, he a) gets someone to comb his script looking for plot holes and b) picks a genre and sticks to it.

3/5

[Review] The Cabin in the Woods

Posted in Film with tags , , on April 24, 2012 by Icy Sedgwick

The Cabin in the WoodsI’ve long despised the trend towards slasher films set in isolated locations, wherein a group of dizzy young people find themselves dispatched using whatever means the filmmakers hope will excite the most horror/adulation from their audience. We’ve been inundated with this type of film since the 1970s, and while many have tried different approaches to set their story apart from the nine zillion other stories just like it, it seemed a particularly odd type of film to come from the pen of Joss Whedon. Or is it?

To be honest, its tagline gives it away. “You think you know the story.” Instantly it challenges the audience. Do we know the story? Or do we merely think that we do? Even the poster design points to the fact that things are not what they seem, and that the cabin itself is a space to be manipulated…although, manipulated by whom?

Five friends go to stay at a cabin in the woods, owned by the cousin of alpha-male Curt (Chris Hemsworth). On the way, they’re warned of its dangers by a crazy gas station attendant – a warning they choose to ignore. We’re all very aware that these are not just characters, they are also stereotypes – and very important stereotypes at that. Idiotic blonde, jock, stoner, virgin, scholar, mad harbinger of doom – the whole genre doesn’t work without them in some combination or other. True, they’re not always used on an individual basis, but look closely enough and you’ll see some version of them.

At the same time, a group of scientists set to work in an underground lab, reminiscent of Christof’s control centre in The Truman Show. It soon becomes clear that the main pair are controlling the cabin’s environment, although to what end? Is this some kind of 18-rated reality TV show, or government experiment? This being a Joss Whedon production, you’d probably tend towards the latter, but the truth is yet stranger still.

Thing is, the film is a peculiar hybrid of many other films (indeed, the crazed family of killers that arrive to persecute the friends could be lifted from any number of films, and I half expected to see Ash rampage through the woods with his chainsaw) yet somehow completely independent of them all. Sure, all of the elements are present but the combination, and the context surrounding them, turns the film into a mad sort of ‘meta-slasher’.

The design of the film, and its monsters, is gorgeous, with one particular scene involving a set of lifts putting the lobby scene from The Matrix to shame. The art direction surrounding the cabin nods to its slasher predecessors, while the basement acts as a sort of repository of nightmares. However, as well-designed and slick as the film is, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s Whedon’s glorious take on the Final Girl Theory.

Devised by Carol Clover in the wake of the slasher boom, the theory revolves around the idea that such films are populated by disposable characters, each of whom will be punished for their transgressions against the social norm inherent to each film, leaving a ‘last girl standing’, usually the virginal student who does her homework on time and babysits the neighbours’ kids without any interruptions from boys (see Laurie in Halloween). This Final Girl is the only character with the integrity and strength to defeat the monster/killer. The Cabin in the Woods highlights the importance of this cultural myth by making it central to the motivation behind the events of the film, but Whedon goes one step further and adds a whole new layer of mythology. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

I really enjoyed the film, not only for its exploration of key horror theory, but also for its visuals, its strong characterisation, and its willingness to step outside the boundaries of what we’d expect, and to give us something new based on a very old and very tired formula. Full props to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard for giving us a slasher film that actually didn’t bore me.

4.5 / 5