Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: movie (page 1 of 7)

Lake Bodom

Two teenage boys who are obsessed with a 30-year-old campsite murder trick two teenage girls to visit the campsite to re-enact the killings. But there are a few more tricks to come.

The location of this movie is gorgeous, reminding me of wilderness campsites I’ve used, and the violence set against the placid lake is quite jarring. The movie takes a surprising twist, and for a while feels a bit like “High Tension” (with all of that movie’s problematic issues). Overall, it was good, if a bit uneven and odd, with the first 30 minutes and last fifteen definitely better than the middle.

Can’t Take It Back

Two high school girls leave mean comments on a dead girl’s Facebook page. The comments are seriously unappreciated by the dead girl’s vengeful ghost.

This was actually better than I expected it to be, mostly because of Ana Coto’s performance. It has a “I Know What You Did Last Summer” vibe, updated to the social media era (and even starring YouTube personality Logan Paul), and actually makes good use of social media technology (including one quietly unsettling use of facial recognition tagging in a Facebook picture). I watched it while working, so it only got about half my brain’s attention, but that half enjoyed the ride.

The Ranger

Punk rockers on the run from a crime in the city seek refuge in a remote, abandoned cabin. But the dangers in the wilderness are deadlier than those in the urban jungle.

This is a hammy, gory, mostly predictable slasher romp with a couple of surprises; the titular ranger is played with unhinged, sneering glee, and the punks are as punky as you’d expect. I enjoyed the play on “Leave No Trace” principles, there were some good witty barbs traded during kills, and the climactic fire tower scene was pretty great. Maybe not a cinema masterpiece, but for what it is, it’s fun.

Let Us Prey

A rookie police officer’s first night at the station in a small Scottish town involves a mysterious car crash, a basement lockup filled with men harboring dark secrets, and a confrontation with her own terrible past.

I didn’t expect this to turn into a tale of cosmic revenge and retribution, with some insane violence thrown in; the movie takes some unexpected turns, and in the last half hour really ratchets up the tension (and flames). The glimpses we get of the characters’ secret crimes are tantalizing but never fully explained, which adds to the mysterious atmosphere. All in all, a grim but enjoyable film.

Dead Birds

After robbing a bank, a group of Confederate deserters hides out in an abandoned plantation house where some dreadful things have happened.

This movie makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in budget for effects. There’s a lot of creeping around in dark hallways, peering under beds, rattling cellar doors, and half-glimpsing things in the storm-ravaged cornfields outside. There’s also some pretty good tension between the characters, who, true to the robber gang tropes, quickly divide into two opposing groups apparently trying to double-cross each other while the evil entities within the house pick them off one by one.

The effects are not especially convincing, and a few (like the faces of children transforming into sharp-toothed demons) are used past the point of effectiveness. The budget constraints show through in those moments.

It has a nice oroboros shape to it, though, with echoes of the opening scenes reverberating at the end, and some grisly Southern Gothic atmospherics that have this movie punching a bit above its weight class.

Exeter

A group of teens invades an abandoned asylum for a drug, booze, sex, and rock & roll fueled party. Their antics invite a malevolent spirit to possess one of the kids, and all manner of bad and gory things follow.

This one has a little bit of everything: demon possession, a Ouija board, an evil priest, vengeful spirits, and some really raunchy kills (the face-chopped-in-half was my personal favorite). It’s a solidly metal movie: loud and dumb and full of screams and gore, each successive scene trying to build on the outrages of the last, with a narrative that would fall apart if you looked at it too closely. It’s not “The Witch” or “A Dark Song,” nor is it trying to be: it wants to throw scary shit at the wall and see what sticks. Enough of it sticks to make this a well-executed, occasionally-funny, thoroughly-enjoyable ride to hell.

Next of Kin

Linda inherits a creepy old house that is used as a nursing home after her mother dies. When residents start to die in a manner that mirrors accounts she finds in her mother’s journals, she becomes convinced that there’s something dark and deadly at work.

The first hour or so is full of atmosphere, building a sense of dread and unease while Linda begins to dig into the last time the house’s residents started to die. Then in the last twenty minutes it goes off the rails, blood-soaked bonkers, with some truly gory moments and a (quite literally) explosive conclusion. The chaos at the end is surprising, which makes it that much more effective.

Into the Dark: All That We Destroy

Geneticist Victoria hits on a novel, if ethically problematic, way to help her son Spencer work through his violent impulses. The experiment doesn’t go as planned.

This was a solid offering in the Blumhouse “Into the Dark” series: not as good as “Pooka” or “New Year, New You,” but better than “Down” and “Treehouse.” It drags a bit in the middle–it feels like it could have been about an hour long with a tighter script–but delivers some interesting ideas and a tense final act.

Monsters

A photographer is tasked with escorting his employer’s daughter to safety through the “Infected Zone” of northern Mexico, where giant extraterrestrial monsters roam.

This has some similarities to “Cloverfield,” in that it focuses on the smallness of humans fleeing giant and largely unseen monsters, though it’s much less frenetic, with more character development. It also feels a bit like “Annihilation,” with its characters making their way through a dangerous jungle landscape, but without the bio-chaos weirdness of Jeff VanderMeer’s story. There are some quietly moving moments, especially in the surprising final minutes with an unexpected echo between the monsters and the humans, and its vision of a massive American wall on the Mexican border that ultimately fails to provide protection against a misunderstood danger feels eerily timely a decade early.

Cloverfield

When a giant monster attacks Manhattan during his going-away party, Rob defies the evacuation to go back into the city rescue his girlfriend Beth, with his camera-toting friend Hudson right behind him.

I grew up watching badly-dubbed Japanese monster movies that ran on Saturday afternoons after cartoons, and I recall the cinematography being comprised of long static shots of lumbering beasts smashing cardboard cities, with very few close-ups of the human victims of the mayhem. “Cloverfield” undercuts the conventions by focusing almost exclusively on the human carnage, with shots so close-up to be dizzying to the point of nausea, and no context provided for the chaos and destruction. The characters are in no position to know what’s going on, and so we as the audience are left in the dark as well. We are trapped in the “fog of war,” directionless and dizzy, just trying to make our way through the rubble.

I liked the conceit of the video tape palimpsest, with little glimpses of a very different day not so long ago when Rob and Beth had a much less terrifying adventure on Coney Island. The juxtapositions made the characters more interesting, and their present condition more harrowing.

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