Monday, 30 June 2008

The Mist Review

There has been a rather good trend recently of horror films actually turning out to be pretty good - [.REC], The Orphanage, The Descent (OK, that one's a little older). Could it be that producing companies/distributors have realised that everyone hates those 15-rated 80's horror remakes? Let's hope so, because if films like The Mist keep coming out, I may well have to turn my attention back to the genre...
To keep it simple, The Mist is one of the best horror films I've ever seen. Whilst it may not reach the intensity of, say, "The Descent", or the filmic brilliance of "Alien", when it comes to serving up some insane scares with a great storyline and believable characters, The Mist knocks 'em dead. The story is easy to follow - bad storm, natural/supernatural mist closes in, people trapped in convenience store fight for their lives - and it's nice to see a film that manages to balance characterisation with lots of scary action really well. Of course, with Frank Darabont directing, this was never going to be yet another recycled horror debacle.

The monsters, all CGI (which is limited due to the budget - though you'll hardly care), are truly horrific. Following very closely, according to Alex, the descriptions of the creatures in Stephen King's novella, they provide many of the non-human scares, and amiably so. From giant spiders who shoot acidic webs (in an excellent, terrifically tense scene in a chemist's) to toothed tentacles belonging to an unseen 'thing' which rip off flesh disturbingly easily, we are shown enough to be scared, whilst giving the feeling that what we see is not even the worst of what is out there. The film follows a style similar to that of War of the Worlds, as we follow only one father's story of trying to protect his son, meaning that we never are shown everything, in keeping with the novella's occasional ambiguity. Also, it's nice to have something truly monstrous in a horror film - none of those silly malformed psycho-killers a la Jigsaw or Leatherface.

Not all of the horror is built up through the creatures, with tension being amped up in the film's true message. The development of the characters trapped in the shop is fantastic, slowly building up tension as attemps to escape the mist inevitably end tragically. It is also here that we encounter the film's greatest asset - Marcia Gay Harden (teehee!) - a religious nutjob, whose theories and speculations of imminent apocalypse at first seems crazy, but soons develops a following. She is truly creepy, her monologues always sending a shiver down the spine.

As with many King adaptations, whilst there are many conclusions, we are left to interpret alot for ourselves, making the viewing of the film more personal to whoever watches it. We are all able to read into it how much or how litte we want - those looking for intelligence, chills and meaning in a horror film will get it, and those who want to see a scary monster film about unnatural (?) fog will get exactly that. The whole thing leads up to a gut-wrenching final scene that may be too downbeat and shocking for some, but I personally loved - finally a Hollywood horror movie grows some serious balls. What happens is, in every way, the true meaning of horror. I implore you to see The Mist. It is brilliant.

Genre Value: 4/5
Entertainment Value: 4/5
Style: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
The Mist is released nationwide in cinemas on Friday July 4th

Monday, 9 June 2008

Diary of the Dead Review

This is the first of a new category on "I Hate How Fake Hollywood Is..." of films that have recently come out or are soon to be released onto DVD.

Diary of the Dead is George A Romero's attempt at a cam-corder zombie movie. Being the daddy of zombie film directors, it seems that, whilst an innovative concept (despite it being pipped to the post by Cloverfield and [.REC]), Romero appears to be trying to get up with the times and get down with the kids. Before I go ahead and semi-rip into this film, it must be said that I used to LOVE zombie films before I got bored of the horror genre, and still have a like of them now.

Because I used to think zombies were the best thing ever in the entire world, I decided to watch Diary of the Dead, hoping it would live up to the recent [.REC], a frenetic exercise in pant-wetting film making. It had mixed reviews, but the documentary style intrigued me, as I was inevitably caught in the Cloverfield/camcorder movie pre-release hype. Some of Romero's fans have said that the style doesn't work, or that it was annoying, but the truth is that the style, which, like in Cloverfield and [.REC] brings a sense of immediacy to the film, is not actually the problem.

Romero's films have always been satirical of the various issues he felt needed to be addressed in society. In "Dawn...", there was his criticism of our materialistic nature, and in "Land..." he addressed Bush's America. Here in "Diary..." is Romero's view that the media is lying to us all, and it never gives the full picture, and that we're actually zombies to the media, and that we rely on it too much, and that blah-de-blah-de-blah. This would've worked well if it was a subtext that you could read into if you were interested, but the way it is tackled is downright preachy, to the effect that the audience feel's like its in a lecture instead of watching a zombie film. And it's not like anyone would argue if they were told that the media is biased. In feeling the need to tell us this, the script is riddled with terrible lines, which aren't delivered well by the sub-par cast, for instance Debra handing a camera to Jason in disgust, saying "Take this - it's too easy to use", or, in a ridiculous voiceover "The media were lying to us... trying to make it seem like everything was gonna be alright". It completely detracted from my enjoyment of the film, and always made me feel taken out of the story (which gets boring in it's linear "drive/stop off/kill zombies - rinse, repeat" style).

This isn't the only thing wrong with the film either. The characters are decidedly weak, and I never really cared about any of them. A couple seriously grated after a while, and the cameraman is decidedly annoying. When his friends ask why the hell he's filming everyone dying instead of actually helping, the audience can't help but readily agree with them, leading to many scenes where you wish you could slap him across the face and tell him that he's the one that needs to wake up - not us. Similarly, the group's stereotypical British teacher is infuriating. Talking drunkenly in one of the worst accents I've ever heard, I wanted this guy to die from the start. Not a great thing in a horror movie, really. Everything that furthers his stereotype, for example, when given a choice of weapons, he takes an archaic bow and arrow, cos, y'know he's an old stuffy Briddish guy, just made me hate him more and more. The only one I actually liked was the Amish guy, providing some well needed comedy to the film. He occasionally made me laugh out loud (the bit where he introduces himself is hilarious), and he provides one of the best zombie moments. Most of the other characters are so bland that they don't really bear writing about here.

All of this is a shame, because when it comes down to the zombie stuff, Romero is still the king. Whilst [.REC] gave us a fair few panic attacks when it came to running away from the 'infected', "Diary..." has some inspired ideas. I don't want to ruin much, but a hospital scene with a defibrillator and a zombie + acid = WOW moment show that he reigns supreme when it comes to thinking up awesome stuff to throw at the undead.

So basically, if you're a zombie fan, watch it for the variety of great moments. If you don't want to be lectured to at great length about the media, then you're best to avoid this one. But if you persevere, watch out for the zombie clown...

Genre Value: 2.5/5
Entertainment Value: 2/5
Style: 2/5
Overall Rating: 2/5

Diary of the Dead will be released on 1 and 2-Disc DVD on June 30th