Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Netflix Reviews: The ABCs of Death

Directed By: Nacho Vigalondo, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Ben Wheatly, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura, etc.

Written By: Nacho Vigalondo, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Ben Wheatly, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura, etc.

Main Cast: Dallas Malloy, Peter Pedrero, Fraser Corbett, Kyra Zagorsky, Darenzia, etc.

Summary: The ABCs of Death is an anthology film divided into 26 individual chapters, each handled by a different director assigned a different letter of the alphabet. Each director was given free rein to choose a word to create a story involving death, which range from accidents to murder.

The Good: Its kind of hard to review a film like The ABCs of Death. Not only is it an anthology film, but its an anthology film where each short is made by a different director and creative team and there are 26 of them. So, to make this easier on everyone reading, I'm just going to touch on the shorts I particularly liked and disliked.

G is for Gravity (directed and written by Andrew Traucki): This was the first short in the film that I actually liked. It was rather simple, short, and made good use of the letter G. While I'm not a big fan of the shaky cam, I can forgive it for this short since its supposed to be a first person perspective. I also loved how the short managed to convey its story without a single line of dialogue. The behavior and the heavy breathing of the POV character helped as well.

H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (directed and written by Thomas Malling): Malling's short was definitely one of the more comedic ones and one of the few of that variety that I actually felt worked. The short is just so weird, but you can feel the hard work the director and crew put into it and its easily one of the most fun. Also, the costuming, make-up, and set design was fantastic.

Q is for Quack (directed and written by Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett): Q is for Quack is another one of the "comedy" shorts that really works. I love the meta-fictional concept of the directors struggling to find a word and hook for the letter Q. The acting on this one is really solid as well, Wingard and Barret feeling very natural and believable as themselves. To be honest, this was probably my favorite short in the film.

U is for Unearthed (directed and written by Ben Wheatley): Another short shot with a first-person perspective, U is for Unearthed is a very quick and interesting little chapter. The film is shown from the perspective of a recently risen vampire who is chased by an angry mob that is trying to kill him. I think I liked this one mostly because it kept closer to vampiric mythology and kept the vampire as a soulless monster.

The Bad: Now, like most anthology films, The ABCs of Death is very uneven. While some of the shorts are really good and a lot of them are decent, there are some that are just god awful. Here's the ones that I personally found rather dreadful.

D is for Dogfight (directed and written by Marcel Sarmiento): While the cinematography is amazing and the use of slow-motion throughout the short is very effective, the are some big problems with the plot that when you start to think about them, make the story kind of fall apart.

F is for Fart (directed and written by Noboru Iguchi): This one was by far the dumbest short of the bunch. The story revolves around a Japanese school girl who decided she'd rather be killed by the teacher who she has a crush on's farts instead of a poisonous gas released by an earthquake. The special effects are horrible, the story is mind-numbingly dumb, and just had me shaking my head by the end of it.

M is for Miscarriage (directed and written by Ti West): This one was really disappointing because I usually like West's work. I loved House of the Devil and I thought The Innkeepers was fantastic. However, M is for Miscarriage is just really lazily done and rather mean-spirited. The only good thing about this chapter is that it is incredibly short.

O is for Orgasm (directed and written by Bruno Forzani & Helene Cattet): While I hate to use this word because it is incredibly overused, but its best word to use when critiquing this chapter. O is for Orgasm is just a collection of "artsy", pretentious images strung together. Luckily, like M is for Miscarriage, this one goes by rather quickly.

W is for WTF! (directed and written by Jon Schnepp): Like M is for Miscarriage, W is for WTF! is incredibly lazy and tries to steal the basic concept behind Q is for Quack. While the random nature of the short does match the chosen word pretty well, the random scenes aren't particularly good and are downright annoying at times.

Conclusion: As with most anthology films, The ABCs of Death is very uneven. Some of the shorts really work and are interesting, some are decent but kind of forgettable or don't really stand out all that much, and some are just terrible and bring the film down. Basically, the film is a very mixed bag.

Recommended?: Yes and no. While I wouldn't recommend it to a general audience, I would say check it out if you like to watch strange movies, are a fan of some of the directors, and have a few friends over who you can laugh at it with and see how they react. Otherwise, you can skip The ABCs of Death.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring

Directed By: James Wan

Written By: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes

Main Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, & Sterling Jerins

Summary: The Conjuring tells the supposedly true store of legendary paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who were called to help the Perron Family who are being terrorized by a dark presence that haunts the secluded farmhouse they just moved into. With the family's safety on the line, the Warrens are forced to confront the powerful entity and experience what might be the most horrifying case of their lives.

The Good: This movie is easily one of the best horror films that I've seen in awhile. Like any good horror film, The Conjuring builds a wonderful sense of foreboding and dread and waits for the perfect moment to bring out its scares instead of throwing them haphazardly at the audience like most modern films of the genre do. After the rather chilling Insidious, James Wan has proven that he knows how to build a truly effective horror movie and the scrip by Chad and Carey Hayes is wonderful as well. Unlike most modern horror films, The Conjuring also gives the audience enough time to form connections with the main characters so we will actually feel something when terrible things happen to them.

The acting from the majority of the cast is excellent as well. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are perfect as the Warrens, making us believe in what they are doing and the chemistry between the two is astounding. The same goes for Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as Carolyn and Roger Perron. The Perron children also do a fantastic job, with Joey King and Mackenzie Foy having the most notable performances in my humble opinion.

Finally, The Conjuring feels like a haunted house film that would have been made in the late 60's/early 70's. It relies heavily on atmosphere and building tension before finally releasing it at the last moment instead of cheap jump scares and loud sounds. The amount of practical effects littered throughout the movie was a nice touch as well. I could easily see this film standing side-by-side with other horror classics like The Changeling and The Haunting.

The Bad: While the majority of the performances and characters were very good, there were some that were admittedly weaker than others. Kyla Deaver, while giving a decent performances as April Perron, seemed to downplay some of her reactions at times, which caused her to come off a little bit wooden at times. Also, I found the character of Officer Brad to be somewhat annoying. While John Brotherton gave a fine performance, the character represents an archetype that I really dislike in horror stories ("The Skeptic Cop") and his presence in the film was a tad irritating at times.

Also, while the film is an excellently made haunted house movie, it's not the most ground-breaking entry into the genre. Instead of subverting some of the expectations tied to the haunted house subgenre, The Conjuring chooses to remain within those boundaries and just tries to be the best horror film it can be (which I believe it easily succeeded at).

Conclusion: The Conjuring is an extremely well-crafted horror movie that relies more on atmosphere, creepiness, dread, and tension than jump scares and loud noises. James Wan has delivered another great horror film that I could easily see becoming a modern classic of the genre.

Recommended?: A wholehearted yes. If you are looking for a well-made horror film that knows what it takes to be truly scary, you should give The Conjuring a chance. You won't be disappointed.