31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #26 – Starry Eyes (2014)

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Tagline: She Would Kill To Be Famous

Director: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Writer(s): Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Studio: Snowfort Pictures/Dark Sky Films

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: Unknown

Release Date: 3rd February, 2015

IMDb Rating: 6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%

UK Blu Ray release? No, just DVD

Cast

Alex Essoe – Sarah

Amanda Fuller – Tracy

Noah Segan – Danny

Fabianne Therese – Erin

Shane Coffey – Poe

Natalie Castillo – Ashley

Pat Healy – Carl

Nick Simmons – Ginko

Trailer

Plot According to Google: A woman’s pursuit of Hollywood stardom puts her on a collision course with a satanic cult.

Inertia’s Insight: The pursuit of fame and fortune in the City of Angels has long been explored in the world of horror, with all manner of human behaviour being capable of committing terrible atrocities to achieve the unattainable. The City of Angels being the Devil’s playground is not exactly a new concept either, and so the two elements combined may seem like basic straight-to-DVD horror fare. On the surface – especially given the terrible looking Region 2 DVD cover – it might seem just that; but Starry Eyes is an incredible piece of filmmaking and, more importantly, an impeccable performance from relative newcomer Alex Essoe.

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Sarah is the archetypal young, beautiful aspiring actress living and surviving in L.A. Working for a restaurant called Big Taters that requires tight clothing and a permanent smile, Sarah is struggling to balance the act of a ‘real’ job versus the pursuit of her dream, and it lands her in hot water with the boss of Big Taters. Her group of friends, all similarly wannabe L.A. kids with dreams higher than their motivation, are no help either. They are absorbed in their own drama, with Erin in particular aiming to undermine Sarah at every opportunity. Sarah has one more problem to contend with, too – trichotillomania, the impulsive need to pull hair. It’s a damaging problem for her, masked permanently with a beautiful but broken smile.

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Sarah is given the opportunity to audition for The Silver Scream, a new horror film by renowned production company Astraeus Pictures. Her audition is over with no comforting sense of achievement, and so with her self-punishing attitude she defiles herself in the bathroom. This brings her to the attention of the casting agent who asks her to come in to re-create this breakdown, and from here this opens the door to unchartered, dangerous territory.

Sarah’s grasp on reality begins to slip as Astraeus continue to push her to the limits. A strange and delusional audition in which she is made to strip and then experience a euphoric encounter with something we can’t quite see is incredibly effective filmmaking from directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, with a career-making performance from the beautiful Alex Essoe. Sarah’s progression is slow and subtle; at first we are not really sure what Astraeus are offering Sarah, as the stereotypical expectation of sex from the producer rears its ugly, chauvinistic head and there doesn’t appear to be any role in sight.

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It’s the personal effect that this process has on Sarah with her friends that truly turns this film up a notch. Whilst undergoing a physical transformation that she can’t explain, her behaviour becomes violent and erratic. Her friendship with her group is already balancing precariously on the precipice, but her change pushes them away. Sarah feels isolated in this adapting world, one that she has no control over. As her transformation becomes physical with incredible make-up and effects, Sarah’s final journey to becoming the star that Aestreus want is marred with blood and loss.

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Funded through Kickstarter with the support of author Chuck Palahniuk, Starry Eyes has achieved success but less than it deserves. It is a personal portrayal on the pursuit of fame and the sacrifices that come with it. The ending is bloody, brutal, and visually remarkable, a tour-de-force of Sarah’s metamorphosis from shy and reserved aspiring actress to a disfigured, destitute animal shedding its skin right through to the exceptional ending in which Sarah emerges – hairless, beautiful and reborn.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • Actress Alex Essoe really put the bugs in her mouth that were vomited by her character in the bathub.
  • The film started as a Kickstarter project and was aidded by the support of author Chuck Palahniuk’s fans.
  • Sarah’s second audition in which she strips naked in front of the spotlight was inspired by a story someone told Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch about doing an audition for David Lynch.

Quotes

THE PRODUCER: Ambition – the blackest of human desires. Everyone has it, but how many act on it?

SARAH: I will do whatever it takes for this role.

THE PRODUCER: Your face would be on the poster, the poster on a wall, a wall in a lobby, a lobby of a movie theater, a theater with a marquee: The Silver Scream.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #27 – The Purge (2013)

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31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #25 – Nina Forever (2015)

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Tagline: A Fucked Up Fairytale

Director: Ben Blaine & Chris Blaine

Writer(s): Ben Blaine & Chris Blaine

Studio: Charlie Productions/Jeva Films

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: £10,815

Release Date: 15th February, 2016

IMDb Rating: 5.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Cian Barry – Bob

Abigail Hardingham – Holly

Fiona O’Shaughnessy – Nina

Mandeep Dhillon – Samira

Katharine Bennett-Fox – Kelly

Javan Hirst – David

Trailer

Plot According to Google: After his girlfriend Nina dies, Rob falls in love with Holly. The new relationship faces a huge challenge when Nina comes back to life to sarcastically taunt the couple whenever they try to have sex.

Inertia’s Insight: The dead coming back to life is not a new prospect for horror film, but the dead specifically being your ex-girlfriend who died in a car accident that now comes back to life every time you have sex with your new girlfriend to taunt you and saturate your bed sheets with blood – that is kind of new.

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They say horror film echoes society’s deepest fears, but I’m not sure what is to be said for the recent spate of films regarding dead ex-girlfriends not being able to stay dead (see Trivia below) – maybe it’s a reflection on the connected society we live in, in which we have degrees of separation less than Kevin Bacon and can view an ex’s many different social media profiles in an instant? Or maybe it’s just an interesting concept to explore the possibility of a dead ex hanging around, preventing you from moving on.

What Nina Forever does is shine a bloody light on the bedroom, a place less explored in PG-13 territory. Can a new couple have sex in the same bed that the dead ex used to sleep in? Nina Forever explores this in stark, revealing detail, and it makes for a dark, funny, tragic and haunting film.

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The film starts with an attempted suicide by the bereft Bob, at a loss after losing Nina. He recovers, and at work he strikes up a friendship with the shy and guarded Holly. Their initial cute-meet is so British; both are reserved and bordering on morose. There’s a pain in Bob’s eyes that Holly wants to heal, seemingly drawn to his tragic tale. Initially reticent, Bob eventually opens up and lets Holly in (with the help of alcohol, of course).

Just as it seems that Bob is finding light at the end of a very dark tunnel, Nina arrives. One thing the Baines brothers do not hold back on is the reality of sex. There’s no soft music, tight slow shots or weird attempts at modesty – there’s nudity, noise and non-static shots that immerse you into it. A film about sex, about an ex haunting a new experience has to have a sense of reality to it, and thankfully this does. When Nina first appears, it is just as shocking for the viewer as it is for Bob and Holly. Most would flee at the earliest opportunity, but Holly’s genuine care and commitment for Bob sees her accepting, embracing and attempting to overcome the bizarre reality of their situation.

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Holly, whilst contending with a dead ex rearing her head every time she gets her rocks off, also has to contend with Nina’s parents. The tragic loss of Nina sees Bob still visiting Nina’s parents for Sunday lunch. It’s these hang ups that would normally need to be overcome when entering a new relationship, and perhaps one of the most awkward scenes involves Holly going for lunch with them. Despite it all, she’s sticking with Bob, and will do whatever it takes to help him through.

What ensues is an extremely dark and at times comic tale of a new couple attempting to overcome the ex at their most intimate moment. They make every attempt to enable Nina to rest, with Holly’s dedication to Bob seeing her getting the ‘Nina’ tattoo, trying to include Nina in a fucked-up threesome and even having sex on Nina’s grave…

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Like I said, it’s dark but it’s necessary. It’s probably the most accurate reflection of a relationship that a rom-com could only wish to achieve, and the ending is a haunting and sad reflection on relationships whilst cleverly twisting the expectations of the viewer. A first-class film.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • The film was part funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The fake blood used got so sticky the sheets would stick to the actors while filming. They solved the problem by adding lube to the blood.
  • Nina Forever is one of a series of similarly themed films about dead girlfriends coming back to life, including Life After Beth (2014) and Burying the Ex (2014).

Quotes

HOLLY: Bob, who is this?
BOB: My dead –
NINA: – Girlfriend.

SAMIRA: How’s things going with your sexy suicidal guy?

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #26 – Starry Eyes (2015)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #24 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Tagline: If It Doesn’t Scare You… You’re Already Dead!

Director: George A. Romero

Writer(s): George A. Romero & John A. Russo

Studio: The Walter Reade Organisation

Budget: $114,000

Box Office: $30m

Release Date: 1st October, 1968

IMDb Rating: 8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Duane Jones – BennJudith O’Dea – Barbra

Karl Hardman – Harry

Marilyn Eastman – Helen

Keith Wayne – Tom

Judith Ridley – Judy

Trailer

Plot According to Google: A disparate group of individuals takes refuge in an abandoned house when corpses begin to leave the graveyard in search of fresh human bodies to devour. The pragmatic Ben does his best to control the situation, but when the reanimated bodies surround the house, the other survivors begin to panic. As any semblance of order within the group begins to dissipate, the zombies start to find ways inside – and one by one, the living humans become the prey of the deceased ones.

Inertia’s Insight: A low budget horror rife with subtext that catapulted both its director and its villains into the history of cinema and beyond, Night of the Living Dead is an exemplary piece of horror filmmaking. The zombie film is now as synonymous with our pop culture as Gangnam Style and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Night is where this fascination with the undead started.

Embracing its limited budget by isolating the story in a remote farmhouse, Night of the Living Dead beautifully eschews unnecessary build-ups or set pieces and instead immerses you into the confusion and horror of the situation. Brother and sister Johnny and Barbra are visiting their Father’s grave on their annual trip, when a joke between the two about Barbra’s fear of the graveyard becomes startlingly true. Romero captures the horror of the situation perfectly, flicking the switch from normal to abnormal within seconds. All of a sudden, Barbra’s life is turned upside down as she is pursued by a man that at first she considers a maniac but soon discovers, via an incredibly specific radio broadcast, that the dead have come back to life and are devouring the flesh of the living.

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The 1960’s saw an America in tatters. The American Dream of the 50’s was shattered as the country embarked on a proxy war in Vietnam that saw the loss of thousands of lives; the Bay of Pigs invasion brought the country close to the edge of mutually assured destruction with communist Russia, and at home riots prevailed on the streets of major cities as civil rights movements saw Black communities demanding change. A horror film about zombies broadcast in drive-ins and as part of Saturday matinees might have come across as B-movie schlock, but it held a mirror to the country and perfectly commented on society’s feelings. The role of Ben was not written with a black man in mind; Romero has stated in many documentaries, most recently Birth of the Living Dead (2013), that Duane Jones, a classically trained actor, was the best fit for the role and the script was not in any way amended to reflect his race. The interpretation of each of Ben’s scene, solely given his colour, is hugely important when considering the social instability at the time. The scene in which Ben first arrives and Barbra reacts to seeing him; the scene in which Ben is talking and Barbra is just staring at him, scared; the scene in which he hits Barbra to wake her out of her hysteria – all of these scenes have an added weight and intensity to them given Ben’s race. And of course, lets not forget the final scene in which the search group, all white, find Ben at the house. As Romero has said the script wasn’t altered at all, but you can’t help up but define the relevance of him in context with all that was happening at that time. It’s no surprise that this film has been studied and critiqued in colleges and universities across the world.

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It is an exemplary film for many reasons, one of which is its rife political and social subtext but also its change in direction for the movie monster. The 1960’s were peppered with horror films that had villains with a sense of an elevated status – creatures like Dracula or Frankenstein may appear in human form but they are never regarded as such. Here, the villains were people – and not just in zombie form, either. The notion that some place that exists after death, better and more prosperous than life on earth is shattered by the notion that the dead no longer die, they no longer rest in peace; we are doomed to walk the Earth for the rest of our days, aimlessly wandering about, feeding, feeding, feeding…

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Now, the argument might be that Romero’s zombies are the original format to follow: their bite is infectious, they are slow moving and are motivated only by the need to feed, but… if you watching Night of the Living Dead, his ghouls are actually none of these. They are quick (not Dawn of the Dead-remake quick, but still quick nonetheless) and they appear to be intelligent (the ghoul at the start tries to open the door and uses a brick to smash the window to get at Barbra, and Judy uses a trowel to stab her Mother to death). The beauty of this film is the sub-genre that it launched, catapulting into pop culture and saturating all manner of consumerism – films like Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead-remake; TV shows like The X-Files and, of course, The Walking Dead; comic books, novels, games, web series… the list goes on, and so will the genre for years to come.

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Primal fears that are inherent in society no matter its changes will always ensure that the zombie sub-genre continues to be explored, and Night of the Living Dead a timeless classic that can be appreciated as if its the first time you’re seeing it during the social uncertainties of 1968.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • Readers Digest tried to warn people away from watching the film in 1968 by claiming if its ever watched, it will inspire cannibalism.
  • One of the working titles for the film was, “Night of Anubis”.
  • The word “zombie” is never used. The most common euphemism used to describe the living dead is “those things” or “ghouls”.

Quotes

JOHNNY: They’re coming to get you, Barbra.

NEWSCASTER: It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims. It’s hard for us here to be reporting things to you, but it does seem to be a fact.

All images courtesy of Blushots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Tomorrow: Night #25 – Nina Forever (2015)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #23 – V/H/S (2012)

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Tagline: This Collection is Killer

Director: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

Writer(s): Various

Studio: The Collective/Magnet Releasing

Budget: Unknown

Box Office: $1.9m

Release Date:

IMDb Rating: 5.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes:

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Various – Too many to mention!

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Hired to steal a rare VHS tape from a remote house, a ragtag band of crooks finds a dead body, old TVs and a lot of cryptic footage.

Inertia’s Insight: Anthology horror is no new feat, as we have already covered with The ABC’s of Death and as can be seen on any Gold TV rerun of Tales of the UnexpectedThe Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt or more recently the superb Masters of Horror. With V/H/S, rising horror directors had the opportunity to craft short stories of death and the unknown as if viewed on the scratchy, worn and damaged format of VHS. Enveloping these individual stories is a separate tale surrounding the tapes themselves, their mysterious owner and a disappearing dead body…

So with five shorts of differing sub-genres of horror eclipsed by the central narrative that at times leaves you with the WTF feeling, it’s difficult to review the film as a whole. So like The ABC’s of Death, we’ll break down each of the segments.

Tape 56 (dir. Adam Wingard): This is the pivotal narrative that the rest of the short films revolve around. A group of thugs are seen terrorising a couple in a parking garage then destroying an old office block, before recording themselves entering the house of an old man who apparently possesses an extremely rare video tape that they have been commissioned to retrieve. Upon entering the house they discover the body of the homeowner as well as hundreds of VHS tapes with unusual labels. As the group explore the house, one of them sits and watches some of the tapes. These are the films that we see going forward.

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Each time one of the films ends it cuts back to the group, but each time something changes in the house, the most notable being the disappearance of the old man’s body from the chair. As the films get darker and the search for the tape goes on, something slowly starts to pick them off until the end, when a showdown with what was the old man sees no-one get out alive.

It’s main purpose is to give reason for the rest of the stories’ existence, but Tape 56 manages its own scares and an interesting take on the idea of a zombie. It establishes the house as if it exists in a an alternate universe, the tapes not the only items that establish this world as something other than the one we reside in, and is further explored in V/H/S 2.

Amateur Night (dir. David Bruckner): The first tape to be played, Amateur Night sees three college teens – Shane, Patrick and Clint – who have purchased and are testing out their lens cam, a pair of glasses with a small recording camera in them. Deciding to hit the bars and then hopefully invite women back to their seedy motel to record an amateur sex tape, they encounter more than they could possibly have bargained for.

The short embraces its found footage mechanisms, cleverly using the glasses as a means of maintaining perspective and a reason to keep filming. The way in which Bruckner positions Lily in the foreground at first, her big curious eyes boring in to Clint is a stoke of genius. Her creepy and curious behaviour only leads the inebriated three to bring her back to their room along with another girl. From there shit gets crazy, but not how they intended.

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The beauty of short horror is that an explanation isn’t always relevant, it’s the WTF of it all that matters, and Amateur Night delivers this. Lily is an incredible creature, a terrifying vision of a siren. The ending is superb and leaves you wanting more which now thankfully we can have, as the short has been adapted in to a full feature film, SiREN.

Second Honeymoon (dir. Ti West): The most human of all the shorts, Second Honeymoon follows Sam and Stephanie, a young married couple traversing the back roads of America on their second honeymoon. At first things seem alright, but as we continue to follow them there are obvious cracks in their relationship. Stephanie doesn’t appear to be comfortable getting physical with Sam, even sleeping in separate beds, and Sam is unwilling to trust Stephanie when it comes to money.

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Interspersed with this very human story are two terrifying visitations from some unknown traveler. Breaking into their room one night, the unwanted guest goes through their belongings, steals money, caresses Stephanie’s buttocks with a switchblade knife and ducks a toothbrush in the toilet. The brief glimpse of the intruders face leads you to question whether it’s human or not, but this is soon revealed in a startling and quick finale that shows that the true monster embodies the human form.

Tuesday the 17th (dir. Glenn McQuaid): Probably the weakest of the shorts (but that is said with still a high regard for this piece), Tuesday the 17th sees a misfit group of four friends head in to the woods for a camping trip. As Wendy leads her new friends through the woods with mysterious yet throwaway comments like, “You’re all going to die up here”, we soon begin to understand the mystery that surrounds both Wendy and the woods.

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This short brings V/H/S back to the edge of reality and in to the fantastic, as the most unusual killer I’ve ever seen begins attacking Wendy’s new friends. It appears that her new friends are a ruse for her to try and trap the killer, a mysterious ‘glitch’ that can apparently appear in two places at once and is impossible to fully comprehend. As with all horror films it doesn’t end well, with The Glitch managing to continue on. This another short that is rife to be explored in a full feature film.

The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger (dir. Joe Swanberg): With a fantastic title that doesn’t give much away whilst pulling you in, The Sick Thing features a clever twist on the found footage conventions. Recorded entirely as a series of web chat conversations between Emily and her boyfriend James who have a long distance relationship, we slowly see Emily’s mental state deteriorate as she complains of sleepless nights, pains in her arms and a haunting in her apartment.

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It’s well executed by Joe Swanberg, previously of the mumblecore movement, who uses the format to his advantage. The stutter of the image due to the internet connection plus the grainy webcam footage enables him to work the scares to maximum effect. There are some genuinely hands-over-eyes moments as Emily shows James the haunting occurring in her apartment. The scene in which Emily closes her eyes as she carries her laptop and uses James as her eyes is particularly effective, and the reveal at the end is a real mouth agape moment.

10/31/98 (dir. Radio Silence): Easily the best of all the short entries, this terrifying finale piece from creative quartet Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella) sees four friends dressed up for Halloween, headed to a haunted house party. Strapping a Nanny Cam into his teddy bear outfit, Tyler records the whole ordeal they are about to endure.

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Arriving at what appears to be the haunted house, there are suggestions that something is not quite right. The grainy footage of the cam is a beautiful addition to this short as it really adds to the atmosphere of this impeccable short. Believe it or not, even a chair is scary in this film. As they make their way through the house, the genuine horrors are passed off as part of the fun, and it’s not until they make it to the attic that they realise that this isn’t the haunted house party but instead a house full of real horror.

What ensues for the last three minutes are pieces of every nightmare or horror story you’ve ever seen. It’s like navigating an old game like Silent Hill or Resident Evil. It’s superb filmmaking that, after all of it, literally leaves you thinking, ‘What the fuck?!’

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • The brick house broken into where the VHS tapes are found is the same house as Marble Hornets, a found footage web series that popularised Slender Man
  • The film is set in 1998
  • The film marks the 5th collaboration between mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg and rising horror director Adam Wingard

Quotes

LILY: I like you.

WENDY: You’re all gonna die up here.

CHAD, MATT, TYLER & PAUL: Cast him down!

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #24 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #22 – The Witch (2015)

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Tagline: A New England Folktale

Director: Robert Eggers

Writer(s): Robert Eggers

Studio: A24

Budget: $3m

Box Office: $40.4m 

Release Date: 19th February, 2016

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Anya Taylor-Joy – Thomasin

Ralph Ineson – William

Kate Dickie – Katherine

Harvey Scrimshaw – Caleb

Ellie Granger – Mercy

Lucas Dawson – Jonas

Trailer

Plot According to Google: In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer, his wife and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin, the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy and Jonas suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty and love to one another.

Inertia’s Insight: The debut film from director Robert Eggers that became the sleeper hit of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, The Witch is a masterful exploration of isolation and fear with startling and suggestive imagery throughout.

Cast from their colonial community over a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the New Testament, William and his family must start a new, isolated life in the woods, self-sustaining and free from sin. They find their land, bless it with God’s good words and then set about building their new life. With a cabin, an animal run and a large placement for vegetables they settle in to their pure Puritan life, and before long another child comes along.

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The stunning aspect ratio and photography of this film perfectly encapsulates the power that the forest has on their little piece of land. The rising trees and darkness that lies beyond is a permanent shadow across them and their land. William is a religious man, of that there is no doubt, but his interpretation of the good book leads his family to live in fear of God. Instead of embracing the word of the Lord and celebrating it, they live in fear of sin and constantly ask for forgiveness. This iron weight that bares down on the family doesn’t serve to bring them together but rather divide them, and it’s this wedge that enables the evil to enter their world.

The cold, dark and wet setting coupled with the choice to shoot with natural light creates a downbeat and dreary undercurrent. It feels at times like Eggers was previously a music video director – the imagery is stark and at times disturbing. After their youngest child goes missing after a literal game of peek-a-boo, the blame is laid on Thomasin, the oldest daughter who previously professed to being a witch in order to scare her younger siblings.

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It’s difficult at first to settle in to the film – the script embraces the proper language of New Englander’s in the 1600’s, and so you find yourself catching up with the story as you get to grips with dialect. It’s testament to the acting prowess – particularly Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy – that they master the language and make it their own. As the paranoia in the family builds and the fractures begin to show, the Devil appears to make idle play with them.

Their crops are rife with disease and their hunting traps are empty. In attempt to impress his Father and restore order to their land, young Caleb decides to go hunting in the forest one morning. Thomasin attempts to assist him but a horse accident knocks her unconscious as Caleb chases their dog deep into the forest. His sexual maturity has previously displayed at times with his sister, so the beautiful young woman that appears in the forest has no trouble luring him in. Again, Eggers only allows us a fleeting glimpse at the possible existence of something supernatural in the forest, but its enough to build a convincing case.

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The film is rife with suggestion; there are no obvious signs that genuine witchcraft is at play. Rather, the imagery suggests a blurred line between reality and fantasy, where not even we are certain of the hand that plays them all on puppet strings. As Caleb returns form the forest with a mysterious illness and then dies after passionately proclaiming his love for Christ, the suggestion of witchcraft heightens and William loses control over his family.

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The final act is a stark and unsettling series of events, beautifully painted by Eggers with more stunning imagery. The Devil is truly at play as the family are pulled apart with the power of suggestion, the Devil invading their lives with that which they covet the most. The image of the crow with Katherine is brief but powerful and will surely leave a mark. As the Devil reveals himself and Thomasin accepts, the ending can leave no doubt in the mind that something far greater than she could have imagined lies beyond forest, and a career awaits Eggers after this stunning debut.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • The film was shot using natural light.
  • Most of the film’s dialogue and story were based on writings from the time.
  • Stephen King is terrified of the film.
  • The film was shot in a rare aspect ratio – 1:66:1.

Quotes

THOMASIN: Black Phillip, I conjure thee to speak to me. Speak as thou dost speak to Jonas and Mercy. Dost thou understand my English tongue. Answer me.
BLACK PHILLIP: What dost thou want?
THOMASIN: What canst thou give?
BLACK PHILLIP: Wouldst thou like the taste of butter and pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
THOMASIN: Yes.
BLACK PHILLIP: Wouldst thou like to see the world.
THOMASIN: What will you from me?
BLACK PHILLIP: Dost thou see a book before thee? Remove thy shift.
THOMASIN: I cannot write my name.
BLACK PHILLIP: I will guide thy hand.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #23 – V/H/S (2012)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #21 – Eden Lake (2008)

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Tagline: A Weekend by the Lake, with Views to Die For

Director: James Watkins

Writer(s): James Watkins

Studio: Optimum Releasing

Budget: $1.5m

Box Office: $3,983,997

Release Date: 12th September, 2008

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Kelly Reilly – Jenny

Michael Fassbender – Steve

Tara Ellis – Abi

Jack O’Connell – Brett

Finn Atkins – Paige

Jumayn Hunter – Mark

Thomas Turgoose – Cooper

Trailer

Plot According to Google: During a romantic weekend getaway, a young couple confronts a gang of youths, and suffers brutal consequences.

Inertia’s Insight: The noughties was a tough time for the disenfranchised youth, with depictions of ‘chav culture’ rife with a rise in unemployment and the financial crash. David Cameron’s frankly pathetic attempt to ‘Hug A Hoodie’ only further served to distance the youth from society’s morals, causing scapegoats, an unnecessary fear of council estates and a subculture that seemed to be responsible for a fear of working class strife.

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In the wake of this, there came a slew of films that sought to explore and exploit the youth subculture of modern day Britain. Kidulthood (2006) kicked it off and started the wave of films including Shifty (2008), Harry Brown (2009) and Shank (2010). In the middle of all this was a small gem of a film that mastered the horror requirements whilst making a stark comment on the condition of Britain’s disenfranchised society at the time: Eden Lake.

School teacher Jenny and her partner Steve skip the city for the weekend in favour of a quiet camping break at an isolated countryside lake that is soon to be turned into luxury houses. Finding a quiet spot on the lake shore they set up camp but are soon disturbed by a group of youths drinking, smoking, swearing and playing music. Feeling the need to approach them after their dog begins to disturb Jenny, Steve sets off a chain of events that results in a bloody, gruesome and downright miserable finale.

At first just taunted by the youths with immature games, the ante is soon upped when their food supplies and car are vandalised. As Steve and Jenny drive through the town after breakfast heading back for the lake, they spot the bikes belonging to the group. Attempting to involve the parents, Steve finds himself entering the house in a strange and almost perverse kind of territorial marking but soon ends up scaling the roof to escape the youth’s Father. It’s an odd move from Steve with no discernible reason as to why he would enter the property, but it’s clever direction from Watkins enabling fluid movement and rising shadows to anticipate the cat-and-mouse game taking place.

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From here Jenny & Steve’s holiday takes a nosedive. Their car is stolen by the erratic Brett (a career-making performance by Jack O’Connell) and his misfit group of misguided youths. Steve is pushed to his limits, and in an altercation to get his car back, Brett’s dog is killed. Managing to escape, Steve & Jenny crash and Steve is injured. What they have to endure next is toe-curling and at times difficult to watch.

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And that’s the beauty of Watkins’ direction. The suggestion of what is happening is far more effective than what you see. Films like the Saw franchise fall foul of this upper hand, and though their genre might be of the ‘show it all’ ilk, they lose the impact of imagination. The scene in which Steve is tortured is brutal, and devastating in the peer pressure heaped upon Brett’s loyal followers. The scene with the Stanley knife is horrific but is perfectly executed – repeated viewings will highlight the genius of Watkins’ direction. You never actually see the damage inflicted or a Hostel-style close up of the knife cutting his tongue, but the insinuation and the sound are enough to incite those feelings of horror.

What follows is a Final Girl assault and stance for Jenny. Stepping into the role of survivor by watching her life partner tortured and brought to the brink of death, she must traverse mud and shit-infested bins to outwit and survive this lethal group. Kelly Reilly’s portrayal of the shattered Jenny is superb, the transformation from Primary school teacher to one-woman survivor is marred with pitfalls and devastation. The tipping point – for Jenny and Brett – is the burning scene, in which no-one can turn back from the horror that Brett has subjected them to.

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The burning scene is gruesome, again a perfect move by Watkins to suggest but not show the horrors that have unfolded in the woods. His true nature is now evident, and Jack O’Connell puts in a superb performance worthy of any horror mantle. The transformation of both Brett and Jenny as they come head-to-head makes for an intense final act. Jenny becomes as destructive as those she is fleeing from, and the scene with Thomas Turgoose’s reluctant Cooper is heartbreaking. Brett is falling apart as the implication of their actions catches up to him. And just as Jenny thinks she’s clear of it, the horror is only just beginning…

The ending is unrelentingly bleak. When I first watched I could only marvel at the brilliance of Watkins’ decision to end it the way he did, revealing Brett for the monster he is but also the shadow of the monster he lives in. It is such a British ending – downbeat and with no sense of closure or hope for any of the characters. Brett’s final scene is haunting, the culmination of a day’s events in which he has embraced the monster he was destined to become.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • It was filmed at Black Park Lake in Buckinghamshire
  • Linked with the ‘Broken Britain’ theme and was cited by Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class
  • Remade twice in India as Mathil Mel Poonai (2013) and NH10 (2015)

Quotes

STEVE: I promise, the quarry’s fucking stunning.
JENNY: The quarry is stunning. No ‘fucking’.
STEVE: Please, Miss.

BRETT: Follow the blood.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #22 – The Witch (2015)

31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #20 – All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

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Tagline: She’s To Die For

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer(s): Jacob Forman

Studio: Optimum Releasing

Budget: $750,000

Box Office: $1,893,697

Release Date: 15th February, 2008

IMDb Rating: 5.6/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 41%

UK Blu Ray release? No, just DVD

Cast

Amber Heard – Mandy Lane

Anson Mount – Garth

Whitney Able – Chloe

Michael Welch – Emmet

Edwin Hodge – Bird

Aaron Himelstein – Red

Luke Grimes – Jake

Trailer

Plot According to Google: Beautiful Mandy Lane isn’t a party girl but, when classmate Chloe invites the Texas high school student to a bash in the countryside, she reluctantly accepts. After hitching a ride with a vaguely scary older man, the teens arrive at their destination. Partying ensues, and Mandy’s close pal Emmett keeps a watchful eye on the young males making a play for Mandy. Then two of the students are murdered…

Inertia’s Insight: A grindhouse classic in the making with a brilliant B-movie title, Mandy Lane has gone largely unseen in the cinema world since its festival release in 2006 and subsequent UK release in 2008. Hampered with distribution problems due to the company going bust not long after acquiring the rights, The Weinstein Company have only recently stepped in to buy back the film and give it a limited release. It would be a sin for audiences not to see this film, particularly in countries where this kind of story is more pertinent than ever.

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Mandy Lane has attracted the attention of every senior at her High School. Seeming to have flourished over the summer holiday, the simply stunning Mandy is innocent in her beauty and seemingly surprised and unfazed by the attention. Invited to a jock’s pool party, Mandy invites along her outsider friend Emmet who ends up gaining the attention of the jocks and, in an attempt to make a show of their bravado, Emmet challenges Dylan to a rooftop pool-jump that results in his death.

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Cut to nine months later and it seems that Mandy has embraced the attention she was attracting and has now merged with the popular kids, leaving dark Emmet on the outside looking in. Beauty has been captured by the beast of High School popularity, though there is still an air of the innocent with Mandy.

Invited to a farmhouse retreat with just a few members of the popular group, Mandy and her group of friends indulge in the usual drinking games that oversee a teen retreat, and soon the group is split up and the murders begin. Mandy shares time with each member of the group over the course of the afternoon and evening; each interaction has the bittersweet innocence that she retains over the rest of them. Whilst they have all drank, took drugs and had sex, Mandy is the untouchable purity of the group that all of them – even Chloe – seem desperate to attain.

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The audience are immersed with Mandy, expecting a transformation from pure Virgin to average American teen over the course of that night. Instead what we get is something entirely different. The film seems to fall into the Final Girl category as the killer is revealed early on to be Emmet, seemingly enacting revenge for his public shun and humiliation. As each of the teens are made aware of their killer (moments before their death) the film’s path seems intent on a showdown between Emmet and Mandy, the killer and the Final Girl facing off in a battle to the death; Emmet fighting to kill the person he holds responsible for his downfall.

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And then comes the twist. I first watched this film when it was released in 2008, and I can genuinely say that even to do this day, it still gives me chills. Amber Heard is so incredibly beautiful of that there is no doubt, but the way in which she plays the role of Mandy is worthy of a horror mantlepiece trophy akin to some of the slasher heydays’ best: the moment in which her character switches to reveal that she is the architect of this massacre from the start is goosebump-inducing brilliance, and her reluctance to carry through hers and Emmet’s plan, to emerge the victim at the end of it all is sheer brilliance on behalf of Levine & Forman, but true hats need to be doffed to Amber Heard in a career-making performance.

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So the Final Girl is actually the killer-by-proxy all along, her mask one of innocence. It is a pertinent and frank reflection of the strife and pain, angst and difficulty that each and every teenager feels, and one that, for reasons perhaps still unknown, some in America seem to feel the answer is taking a gun into school and ending it all. Mandy Lane subverts genre norms whilst commenting on a culture that, in the ten years since it was made, sadly shows no signs of ending.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * *

Trivia

  • Emmett is seen wearing a shirt with ‘Natural Selection’ written on it, linking to Eric Harris who wore the shirt during the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999.
  • The main ranch house used to belong to Hilary Duff’s family.
  • Emmy Rossum was offered the role of Mandy Lane but turned it down, stating that she did not want to be in a slasher movie.

Quotes

BIRD: You know we are trying to get you right?
MANDY: Get me?
BIRD: Get with you.

EMMETT: Die with me!
MANDY: I’m gonna go finish High School first.

All images courtesy of Google


Tomorrow: Night #21 – Eden Lake (2008)