Category Archives: Film Review

Film Review: Paranormal Activity

In spite of what the hype machine might want you to believe, this is not the scariest movie ever, it’s not even in the top ten.  What it does do better than almost any film I’ve seen is create a frightening atmosphere.  Big scares are few and few between but this film elicits sustained, and often intense, tension for nearly all of its 86 minutes.  In this respect, it far outstrips the seemingly bottomless well of torture porn that modern horror films have become and proves itself more sophisticated than most of its big budget counter-parts.

The plot revolves around a young couple being haunted by a demonic presence in their new home.  Things are shot in the faux-amateur video style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, though far more effectively than either of those films.  The supernatural events are, for the most part, so grounded and plausible that the “found footage” conceit doesn’t feel like a gimmick.  This move is, literally, about things that go bump in the night and just how terrifying that can be.  We’ve been afraid of strange noises, shadows, etc. at some point in our lives and Paranormal Activity plays on those fears expertly.  Things escalate so slowly that by the time the supernatural gloves really come off we’re ready to buy into it.

As good as the premise and its execution are, this film is hurt by some poor characters.  Poor decision making is a hallmark of modern horror, but the boyfriend (Micha Sloat) is stupid enough to undermine the realism of the rest of the movie.  Katie Featherston is fine as the girlfriend, growing progressively more stressed and haggard as events unfold, but there’s really not enough to her character to explain why she puts up with her boyfriend’s idiocy.   Combine this with an utterly flat supporting cast and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting the next night vision shot of their bedroom when you’ll find yourself jumping at a creaky door and some flickering lights.

Overall, this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in recent years and the box office returns (especially compared to Saw VI) are an encouraging sign that audiences may finally have grown out of the torture-loving phase and are ready for some real scares.

Who should see it: Fans of Blair Witch and Cloverfield, anyone who’s tired of the “things jumping out at you” scare tactics

Who shouldn’t see it: Anyone who thinks the Saw films aren’t utter shit,  those without enough of an attention span to appreciate 86 minutes of suspense with a chase or a fight scene.

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Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are

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b+

The mixed reviews for this film are entirely understandable.; it’s hard to know how to react to something without an easy point of comparison.  For my part, I need to applaud the originality; it may not be enough to call it mind-blowing but, combined with a solid cast and extraordinary special effects, it makes for a highly enjoyable experience.

The only arc with which Hollywood can sell a child-protagonist to adults seems to be the coming of age story.  All the other problems, conflicts, and adventures that might concern children are strictly the province children’s movies.  Where the Wild Things Are does NOT fit that pattern.  Max (Max Records) is nine. He talks like a nine year old, thinks like a nine year old, and acts like a nine year old.  This is a movie about a nine year old boy’s imagination, and if that isn’t engaging enough for you then you’re missing out.

The film could be properly said to be inspired by Maurice Sendak’s book rather than based on it.  Max has a fight with his mother and flees into the darker parts his imagination, the specifics diverge from there.  Naturally, the wild things need a bit more to say and do to fill 101 minutes, but the resulting narrative is more than just filler.  These creatures are fully realized characters, both through stellar voice acting and the best melding of puppetry and CGI ever achieved on film.  Together, they and Max act out his troubles and insecurities while he gets to know them, and himself, better.

As I said, this is a film about a nine year old.  The plot doesn’t centre around slaying monsters of saving the wild things’ home.  The great quest is, appropriately, building a fort.  This is why the film is for adults and not kids, it’s about the characters and what they represent. All of the wild things serve as stand ins for both Max and the people around him, but his most significant connection is with Carol (James Gandolfini proving his sensitivity isn’t limited to mob bosses), who shares his feelings of abandonment, and its accompanying rage and powerlessness. 

The comparisons are a little simplistic in much of the film, and the plot’s scarcity shows through at those times, but there’s a refusal to provide any easy answers that keeps things from becoming trite.  This movie succeeds in being touching and, more importantly, doesn’t rely on Hollywood’s standard bag of tricks to get there.

 Who should see it: Anyone who believes that kids have something to teach us, people who love great special effects, fans of the book

 Who shouldn’t see it: Kids, people who think adherence to the source material is a measure of perfection, anyone of can’t appreciate monsters being more than monsters