Friday, March 9, 2012


I had a couple people over to watch this portion of the madness, and the movies were picked at random out of a bag of movies I have never seen before and don't know much about.


(not the Elisha Cuthbert movie)

Holy shit. Depressing, brutal movie about the mental, physical, and sexual abuse of a teen and pre-teen committed by their aunt and other kids (some younger, some older) in the neighborhood. The movie is all the more vicious because it's well-made and not properly a horror movie as most understand the term.

The film makes as the point of view character a 12 year old friend of the victims who is forced to watch what happens without being able to do anything about it. The movie does not present child abuse as entertainment; we're meant to feel sympathetic to the victims and feel outrage and shame for being helpless. By being forced to witness what goes on, The POV character (and therefore the viewer as well) is victimized alongside the primary target of abuse, a point driven home by the wraparound "adult thinks back about what he saw" segments which is what inspires all the "it's like a twisted Stand By Me!" comparisons you run across when reading about the movie (including from Stephen King, no less).

The most heartbreaking part of the movie was when the boy witness talking to his dad, fishing for advice without mentioning the situation, and the father giving in-most-cases good advice (basically mind your own business and don't interfere in other peoples' quarrels) that encourages his son to keep quiet about what he saw. The urge to scream TELL HIM!!!!!! at the screen was pretty overwhelming...

The most fucked-up wrong part of the movie... well... shit. Take your pick. The argument between the one brother wanting to know why he can't fuck his cousin like the other brother did, and their mom telling him it would be like incest if he screwed a girl freshly filled with his brother's "scum" was an all-time high/low in film for fucked-upedness, but the culmination of the torture just tops everything.

The torture itself isn't played for exploitation; just about every instance when it happens the camera focuses on the face of the victim and her pain and anguish (and the reactions of those watching) and not showing the actual injury being inflicted. We're with the victim, not the victimizer.

Based on Jack Ketchum's novel (him again! and not for the last time at GrindhouseFest...) inspired by a true story (the Sylvia Likens case, upon which the movie An American Crime was also based), which as I understand it isn't A Factual Telling of the Story but it isn't so far off to be complete hogwash.

Ketchum can sure write villains that inspire complete hatred. No "cool bad guys" from him that I've yet seen. (with source material like this, maybe that's not so hard...)

Why two production companies would want to tell the story of a girl who really was sexually tortured to death by her aunt (for months in real life, mercifully shorter in this movie), well... no justification is necessary but it's a hell of a coincidence for a 40 year old case to have two movies (this one featuring William Atherton and Blanche Baker, the other with Catherine Keener and Ellen Page, so not basement exploitation stuff) in the same year pour millions of dollars into presenting the story.

Grade: A

Not the kind of movie one *likes*, nor ever wants to see again, definitely not one to recommend that others should watch, but a movie as well-made and effective as this one deserves nothing less than top marks.


After the last movie we were all hoping for some lighter fare. Thankfully, we got it.

The Signal has two concepts:

One is the in-movie plot (or should I say backdrop to the plot). All mass communications - TV, radio, phones and cell phones - fail and are replaced with a weird interference. Being exposed to this interference causes one to lose grip on reality and become quite violent.

The other is the behind-the-camera idea: It's an Exquisite Corpse of a movie. There are three distinct segments, each written and directed by a different person.

The movie is, at the risk of sounding like a bought-and-paid-for movie reviewer looking to be quoted in an ad, a rollercoaster ride. Two things really stand out about the movie:

It has a non-linear storytelling method. We'll see a scene, and then switch to following another character and see what that character was doing during the scene we just saw. This happens a lot. It's not confusing or attempting to be clever, it's just following a few characters during the same period of time, in blocks of time rather than cutting back and forth.

It can switch tones on a dime. Especially in the second segment, we'll have the suspenseful "moving among the maniacs, will this person get away?" horror type stuff that suddenly turns into an over-the-top comedic farce (the guy who is oblivious to the breakdown of society and shows up for a party just hoping to get laid has to be seen to be believed) and then without warning just gets absolutely brutal (torture by industrial pest spray... not as humorous as it sounds). Skilled handling of the material there.

So what's the movie actually about? A woman wakes up in the bed of her lover, and needs to rush home because it's way late and her husband is going to suspect something. Her new guy here wants her to leave him. But she goes home... and things are already getting weird. The husband comes across as a jealous type (which is completely justified here - she IS cheating on him), but the movie gives us a skewed view of the relationship - it definitely shows the husband as the "bad guy" and the wife's lover as "the one she should be with," but with the husband the first real character to come under the influence of The Signal, who knows whether he really is a bad guy that the girl should leave or if she is just a capricious heartbreaker.

Things go to hell, she runs off to escape, other characters are introduced, her husband and her lover both are desperate to find her.

Probably the most fascinating bit of the movie is when it focuses on characters affected by The Signal. They aren't mindless violence zombies or anything - their perceptions are merely clouded by extraneous information and they have trouble processing the world. Induced mass schizophrenia, I suppose. They know they're having problems, they know everything's not right, but when they're pushed (and not necessarily very much), they lash out.

The most farcical portion of the movie features a couple of Signal-affected people with a couple not-Signal-affected people in a house, and the Signal-affected people keep mistaking the people present as their spouses. With hilarious results, until it's not hilarious anymore.

Eventually The Signal affects everyone to some degree or another (how do you avoid even passive contact with ALL ELECTRONIC MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS METHODS these days?) and things get quite confused at the end...

This is all great stuff. Highly recommended!

Grade: B

I saw this as a Lovecraftian sort of horror (an unexplained Something From Beyond intrudes on our civilization and it crashes in an orgy of bloodshed - but it's in the form of media rather than a tentacle monster...), but the core of the story is a woman and the men who love her.

... and apparently this was filmed in Atlanta. I lived there for 12 years and didn't notice... ay ay ay.


"The Office Meets Deliverance" is the pull quote on the DVD box... and... hmm. It'll give you the tone I guess, but that's not really what the movie is like.

A sales team (led by their manager, played by Tim "PERCY!" McInnerny) for Palisades Defense is headed for a lodge in Hungary for a weekend of team-building exercises. The crew is a bunch of misfits (The Office comparisons maybe aren't a million miles off) and nobody seems to really get along. A tree in the road causes the manager to call for a detour, but the local driver of the Palisades bus vehemently refuses and abandons them there at the fork in the road.

The team hikes to what they think is the wilderness lodge they're supposed to be staying in, but is in fact an old prison for Soviet war criminals. A location which has a history with Palisades Defense. And then the killing starts.

So this kind of falls into the "bad things happen in the country" genre, with a heaping helping of "Eastern Europe is like the Deep South USA, full of deranged maniacs" which I've seen in a few (Western) European movies. But it's not "rednecks in the woods," so the whole Deliverance comparison is just wrong.

I wonder about some of the characterization though. McInnerny is portrayed here as a complete incompetent and utter nob, given to spouting corporatespeak gibberish. Thing is, even if he is a goon, such a guy might in fact be an effective manager for a sales department as far as making sure the department runs smoothly and sells "defense technology" (read: WEAPONS OF WAR). He's an administrator, middle management, so who cares if he's an impersonable robot? The he absolutely falls apart in the middle of the woods when the blood starts flowing, well,

What makes this movie is not the (rather boring) setup or background, but the funny bits. Much of the time the humor is absolutely separated from the played-straight horror bits, but the few times it's not (trying to fit a co-worker's severed leg into the bus fridge is not easy to do) are great. Really the comedy is better than the suspense here, and perhaps the movie suffers for being watched immediately after The Signal which really moved between laugh-out-loud humor which fit right in with everything else, whereas this movie seemed to be "now we're doing some scary gore stuff, and now we're doing some comedy, and now..." It seemed much more artificial here.

Grade: C

The whole thing has a "been there, done that" feel to it, but it does keep a certain level of quality. The humor I think really works in spots but the whole premise is just a bit much and we really are meant to take a lot of it seriously. Not a waste of time to watch by any means, just not really something to go out of one's way to see. Oh, and as it turns out the cover of the DVD reveals the order in which people are killed.

Directed by Christopher Smith, who did the awesome Black Death movie and also did a couple other movies still in the to-watch bag...

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed all of those. The Signal was probably the most interesting... while The Girl Next Door is the most solidly horrifying.