Saturday, March 19, 2011

Candidate # 15

(September 2010)

Like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, this is arguably a remake that didn’t need to be made. But, again like Snyder’s redux, this is a particularly well-made film that (now that it exists) deserves to be placed alongside the original.
The original, of course, is Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In), and to be completely fair, Matt Reeves’ Let Me In is, according to the end credits, based on both John Ajvide Lindqvist’s screenplay and his novel, upon which the Swedish film was based.
Certainly, Reeves’ effort boasts an impressive (though at the same time, recognizable) cast, which has veterans Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas, as well as two of the best young actors out there right now, The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Hit Girl herself, Chloë Grace Moretz. There’s also Michael Giacchino on the score.

And while there are a few bits where the CGI doesn’t quite cut it, there are also a few bits that paint Let Me In in darker shades than its predecessor.
It should also be noted that this is the first film brought to us by the newly reconstituted Hammer Films (after the web serial Beyond the Rave), and if they sustain this level of quality for their subsequent feature productions, then that’s certainly good news for horror cinema.
When all is said and done though, I do admit to missing two things in this English-language remake: the first, a key shot, entirely absent here; and the second, the Morrissey reference in the title.
Oh, well.
Can’t win ‘em all…

Parting shot: Reviews of Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield and Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den Rätte Komma In (both past ¡Qué Horror! titles) can be found lurking in the Archive.

(Let Me In OS’ courtesy of & [Fantastic Fest OS].)

Candidate # 14


(June 2010)

The home invasion sub-genre continues to bust down some doors, and Cherry Tree Lane, brought to us by writer/director Paul Andrew Williams, is a nasty piece of work that keeps the atrocity off-camera, and yet plays just as potently as other titles that have their horrors visible for all to see.
Instead of the violence and bloodletting, it’s the terrible intimacy that comes into existence between captors and their prisoners that gets centre stage here, that horrible sense of violation that comes when the sanctity and safety of hearth and home is infiltrated by foreign and unwelcome elements.
In my review of Williams’ The Cottage (lurking in the Archive), I believe I mention that while I wasn’t too fond of his second feature film, I did like Williams’ debut, London to Brighton. For the record, Cherry Tree Lane is definitely Williams’ best feature effort thus far.
With very controlled cinematography by Carlos Catalán, music by UNKLE, and a very lean, mean seventy-seven minute running time, this one is certain to unsettle, and to make you want to double- (and maybe even treble-) check the locks on your doors and windows, and be extra-careful when answering the doorbell.

Parting shot: As the 14th candidate, Cherry Tree Lane also signals the beginning of the attrition here. Only 13 ¡Qué Horror! slots, after all, and October’s still a ways to go…

(Cherry Tree Lane OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

Candidate # 13

(April 2007)

“I’ll tell you one place we’ll be watching. If this documentary thing you’re making ever gets to the theatres, he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll see this movie as many times as he can. We’ll keep an eye on as many screenings as we can because he’ll be there.”
-- Leonard Schway, FBI Field Agent

Though this was the film that brought the Dowdle brothers (John Erick and Drew) to the attention of Hollywood, to date, it’s languished in releasing limbo (more on that later). Thus, it’s actually the latest film of theirs I’ve seen, getting to lay eyes on Quarantine and Devil first, two gigs they got on the strength of the faux doc, The Poughkeepsie Tapes.
Like former ¡Qué Horror! title, Lake Mungo, The Poughkeepsie Tapes plays like a documentary you might catch on cable, this time, about a serial killer’s depradations, culled from 2400 hours of video tape-- the eponymous Tapes-- he left behind for the authorities to discover.
This is a convincing piece that plays the faux doc card all the way through the end credits, not even naming the actors who appear in it (one or two who may look familiar to film geeks out there). The disturbing nature of the low-fi video clips are also effectively disquieting, without needing to resort to loads of on-screen violence; like Lake Mungo, The Poughkeepsie Tapes gets a lot of mileage from minimalism.
It’s clear to see why Hollywood has knocked on the Dowdles’ door.

I should mention that The Poughkeepsie Tapes also represents a double threat for this year’s ¡Qué Horror! rundown.
If I’m required to make some cuts based on spreading the love around (as I’ve done in the past), then this title could potentially bump 2 of the previous candidates off the final list.
If I need to have only one slot go to a Dowdle brothers film, I know which one I’ll choose; if I need to have only one slot go to a faux doc, at this point I know which one I’ll choose…
Which should just go to prove how strong a title The Poughkeepsie Tapes is…

Parting shot: The Poughkeepsie Tapes had its festival debut at Tribeca in 2007, but hasn’t yet seen the light of releasing day because of the recent bankruptcy troubles of MGM, which has also kept Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods in limbo, and delayed the productions of The Hobbit films (to the point where Guillermo del Toro had to back out of the director’s chair) and the next James Bond movie…

(The Poughkeepsie Tapes OS’ courtesy of & [Tribeca OS].)

Candidate # 12

(September 2010)

I truly can’t say enough good things about Darren Aronofsky’s latest, Black Swan. Everything in this-- from the camerawork by longtime collaborator, Matthew Libatique (who’s shot everything for Aronofsky except The Wrestler), to the script by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, and John McLaughlin (from a story by Heinz), to the music, to the cast-- meshes like an exactingly choreographed and executed ballet piece.
It’s about the brittle fragility of bodies and psyches pushed to-- and beyond-- their limits. It’s about desperation and passion and pressure, and about the cruelty of perfection.
And yes, given that this is a horror movie in much the same way a landmark 1960’s film by Roman Polanski was, it’s most definitely a ¡Qué Horror! candidate, an astoundingly strong one, for the record.
Given the manner in which it takes the Swan Lake narrative as well as its motifs and applies them onto the high pressure world of ballet, I’d like to think Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky would appreciate this one.

Parting shot: Black Swan’s BAFTA nominations: Best Film, Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Hershey), David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing (Andrew Weisblum), Best Production Design (Thérèse DePrez and Tora Peterson), Best Costume Design (Amy Westcott), Best Make Up/Hair, Best Sound, and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects; Portman’s win would be the only BAFTA it would take home.
Its Oscar nominations: Actress in a Leading Role (Portman), Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, and Best Picture; again, only Portman would walk on up to the podium…

(Black Swan OS’ courtesy of

Candidate # 11


(June 2010)

Though it’s been awhile since Hostel Part II, Eli Roth hasn’t been idle in the interim; he’s been in front of the camera as the Bear Jew, Sgt. Donny Donowitz, in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and as director Béla Olt in Fruit Chan’s disappointing English-language remake of Hideo Nakata’s Joyû-rei, Don’t Look Up. Roth’s also been behind the camera, but as a producer, on Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism.
As you may or may not already know, The Last Exorcism is a faux doc following charismatic preacher and exorcist Reverend Cotton Marcus (Joan of Arcadia’s Patrick Fabian), as he takes along a film crew of two to record the titular “last exorcism.”
Previously titled The Ivanwood Exorcism and Cotton* at varying stages of its development, The Last Exorcism succeeds with its low-key approach to the material, depicting the dangers of both an overabundance of faith, and a lack of it.

* For the record, my personal favourite title of the three.

(The Last Exorcism OS courtesy of

Candidate # 10

(September 2010)

True, M. Night Shyamalan’s more recent output (beginning with Lady in the Water all the way through to 2010’s The Last Airbender) has been… problematic, but his first salvo from The Night Chronicles-- for which he acts as producer and story originator, among other roles-- is a compelling little number.
Hand-picking screenwriter Brian Nelson (who collaborated with David Slade on both Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night) and director John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Quarantine) to take his tale of “What happens if one of the persons you get trapped in an elevator with happens to be the Devil?” and run with it, Shyamalan has at least proven that he can still come up with interesting and provocative ideas, and that he can pick the right people to bring those ideas to celluloid life.

From the opening, disturbingly disorienting inverted shots of Shyamalan’s beloved Philadelphia, set to Fernando Velázquez’s Herrmannesque cue*, on through to nearly the end of its running time, Devil is an involving cinematic experience, shot by the excellent and experienced eye of Tak Fujimoto, who’s worked with Shyamalan on The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Happening, as well as with other directors on titles running the spectrum from The Silence of the Lambs, on through to Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
This one’s nice-looking and tight, and if you’re not a big fan of elevators and other enclosed spaces, best to stay off it.

* Velázquez has composed scores for such films as El Orfanato (The Orphanage), Bosque de Sombras (Backwoods), and Los Ojos de Julia (Julia’s Eyes). He’s also scored Pål Sletaune’s upcoming thriller Babycall, with Lisbeth Salander herself, the Dragon-Tattooed Girl who Played with Fire and Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Noomi Rapace.

(Devil OS courtesy of