Green Room (2015) Review

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Green Room, an A24 Films production, which was released in the States in late April of ‘16 quickly rose towards to the top of my list of favorite horror and thriller films. Its director and writer, Jeremy Saulnier is someone whose career I plan to watch diligently. Green Room is Saulniers third feature length film, and is well rated on IMDB at a 7.1 and Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 91%. It is co-produced by Macon Blair, who starred in Saulniers two previous films, Blue Ruin and Murder Party. It has a run time of 1 hour and 35 minutes and wastes no time ramping up the action and dread.

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Green Room stars the late Anton Yelchin (new Star Trek, Odd Thomas, Only Lovers left Alive), Imogen Poots (Fright Night remake, 28 Weeks Later) Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) Macon Blair (Blue Ruin, Murder Party) and Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: T.N.G, X-men). Yelchin and Shawkat play members of a punk band who after a disappointing gig are referred to another paying better gig, that unbeknownst to them is held at a underground Neo-Nazi stronghold in the pacific northwest. The band is simply admonished to not “talk politics” by the person who referred them. Although the band sees confederate flags and patrons in skinhead garb, they do not realize the potential danger that they are in and in fact antagonize the crowd by covering the Dead Kennedys song “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” It is at the 14 minute mark that the action really begins when one of the band members accidentally sees a crime committed and the viewer begins to see the harm that may be in store for them. This is all I want to say about the plot, because I eschew spoilers and highly recommend that you watch this film yourself. While he is given top billing, Patrick Stewart’s actual on screen time is less than 30 minutes. Fans of Star Trek who were drawn to this film because of the Trek alumni, most likely had no idea what they were about to witness.

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Like his second film, Blue Ruin, Green Room is visually evocative. The use of color saturation and filters draw you in and hint at the bleakness ahead. The sound editing is impressive and the scenes set in silence, like in the mosh pit prior to the band taking the stage contribute to the building sense of dread. My only teensy complaint would be the reliance on jargon. In this case white supremacy and neo-Nazi jargon, which I suspect the average viewer may not know. This is a small complaint because by looking at the context, one can decipher what is meant. It is clear that much research was done to learn about words and phrases used by these groups. I especially love the subtle social commentary, which while used sparingly really adds to the feeling I think the director is trying to evoke. In addition, I love that the film avoids being preachy or taking a moral stand, beyond the Nazi equals bad viewpoint. I did consult the website Doesthedogdie.com to prepare myself for any on screen animal violence and while there are a few moments of dogs being injured, none are graphic or gratuitous. There are many graphic, gory moments of on screen violence, but none feel over the top or like they are thrown in just to up the ick factor. As a cinephile, it was a treat to see Patrick Stewart play such a deplorable character. It is a shame that this was one of Anton Yelchins last films, and his untimely death in a way made me root for his character Pat even more. While all the cast are superb, for me the stand out performance was from the supporting character Gabe the “fixer” played by Macon Blair. I highly recommend Green Room to fans of suspense and horror.

5 out of 5 stars.

(Written by Jill Kessler)

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Nightcrawler (2014) Review

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Have you ever seen a movie and the sleaze and subject of it just made you want to take a shower? Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy, will leave you wanting to take a mental shower and clear your brain. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an unemployed loser, stealing copper wire and bikes to live. One day he happens by a fatal car accident and gets out of the car to take a look. He is surprised to see Joe Loder, played by Bill Paxton, whizzing by, after he took close-up video of the graphic injuries, until the Police shooed him away. He asks Loder a few questions and is given some advice. Jake buys a camera and a scanner and starts learning police codes so he can get to a “good one”. The film takes place in downtown Los Angeles and features beautiful estates and high-end shops. There is a darker, grittier side too and that’s where he goes “crawling” for footage.

Rene Russo plays Nina Romina, an aging executive news director at one of the local newscasts. She appears to be a workaholic who gave her all to the job and is left with nothing for herself, a worn out shell of her former days as a beautiful, young reporter. Jake takes his invasive and graphic footage to her. Some of the scenes he has filmed push the boundaries of ethics and what should be shown on T.V. Romina, looking ahead to sweeps-week, has no moral issue with a camera being shoved in the face of a bleeding, dying person. This film is very dark, evoking feelings of desperation and death and pain. It builds that sense of dread very well and made me think of the first time I saw Full Metal Jacket . I can’t really say I liked it but it was very provocative.

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Two bright spots in the film are a news assistant played by Kiff VandenHuevel, and Jakes partner, Rick Garcia (played by himself) who assists with directions and shooting footage with Jake. The news assistant takes Russo aside on several occasions and tries to persuade her to see the human side of the footage and implores her not to run some of it.

My problem with this film is that none of the characters are likable people, except for, perhaps, the news assistant. Jake arrives at the scene of a triple murder before the police and gets video of the killers and their van and two dead people and one who is still breathing. He doesn’t call 911 and goes straight to Romino. After that all hell breaks loose but because everyone involved is just oozing with sleaze, by that point you’re really don’t care. Normally I love very dark, noir-ish films but this one misses the mark. It does raise some interesting questions about our need to be a voyeur and the human tendency to stop and look at train wrecks. Give it a look on a day when you’re already in a bad mood.

Cheap Thrills (2013) Review

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Cheap Thrills, the first feature length film by director E.L Katz, is an interesting little gem. 3 of the 4 main actors are horror alumni and bring a world-weary and compelling feel to the movie. At 1 hour and 28 minutes the story unfolds at a brisk pace. While it may be compared to two other recent films, Would you Rather and You’re Next, Cheap Thrills is markedly superior in terms of letting the audience feel like a voyeur in this macabre game.

The story gives us a glimpse at a day in the life of Craig, played by Pat Healy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Innkeepers and the superb Compliance. Craig leaves his flat that he shares with his wife and toddler to find an eviction notice on his door. At his job as a mechanic, he is given a pink slip. Feeling defeated and not wanting to go home midday to face his wife, he heads to a bar. While drowning his sorrows with a stiff drink, an old friend of Craigs’ from high school wanders in. Vince was pals with Craig and they haven’t seen each other in 5 years. As they are reminiscing , Craig confesses to Vince about the day he is having . Craig uses the restroom, where he encounters a coked-up Colin, played by Saturday Night Live and Anchorman alumni David Koechner. Colin does some lines with a rolled up hundred dollar bill, which he then tosses into the toilet. Craig fishes out the money and returns to the bar to find that Vince has cozied up to Colin and his wife Violet, played by Sarah Paxton of The Innkeepers and the Last House on the Left remake. Colin and Violet are nouveau-riche yuppies out looking for adventure and celebrating Violets birthday. They have money to burn and while the four of them drink together Colin approaches the guys about doing dares for money. They start out innocuous enough, harass this woman, get that one to smack you by being rude and the like. When the party moves to a strip club, the ante is upped.  Once the group goes to Colin and Violets house, the dares become more sordid and depraved. Vince is angry that Craig is earning more money and as the dares move into darker territory the scene  and atmosphere changes.

The cinematography and lighting aspects are very well done and give us a fly on the wall view of the events. The movie does get quite gory and there is an off screen death of an animal. To say much more would be giving too much away. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and look forward to seeing more things from this director. Give it a watch and let me know your thoughts. Happy viewing.

Cheap Thrills is out now on DVD, and on Netflix (US).

Martyrs (2008) Review #1 (Jill’s Perspective)

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(The following review contains spoilers about the film)

Martyrs is a French film that is part of the French New Wave horror movement. It joins classic French horror films like Haute Tension (Switchblade Romance, High Tension), Frontiers, Sheitan (Satan), Irreversible and L’Interior (Inside). It was made in 2008 and directed by Pascal Laugier who also made House of Voices (2004) and later the American movie The Tall Man (2012).

I was interested in seeing this because I loved the aforementioned films and because Martyrs consistently tops the lists of most disturbing movies ever made. With a run time of 99 minutes, they wasted no time in getting straight to the gore and disturbing scenes. Martyrs tells the tale of two women, Lucy and Anna, who met as children in an orphanage. As a child Lucy was kidnapped and suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her captors. Anna shared a similiar history and the two bonded through their shared experiences. Lucy has frightening hallucinations and flashbacks that make it difficult for her to function. The film takes us on the flashbacks with her and shows how she escaped her captors. Then we flash forward to 15 years later. Lucy believes she has found the husband and wife who were responsible for her abuse, and she wants revenge. Lucy calls Anna and asks for her assistance . From here the film starts to go back and forth between the past and the present. It shows us vivid and creepy hallucinations that leave us wondering if they are all in Lucys’ head or if she has somehow manifested the demons that haunt her.

When it is revealed that the home contains several underground torture chambers , the film gives us glimpses of the madness about to unfold. The hallway of the main torture chamber is lined with eerie photos of people with grievous bodily injuries that all have their eyes upturned towards the sky . There is a doomed woman who Anna tries to save, as she learns more about the perpetrators. A group of adults led by a matriarch are responsible for the torture. They believe that through suffering, a state of enlightenment can be obtained. They call it “Transfiguration” . They believe there are 7 stages of suffering that lead to the ultimate state of rapture. We watch as Anna is put through these stages, which include isolation, starvation, abuse and disfiguring injuries. I was pleasantly surprised to find there is no rape in the movie though the violence may be stomach churning for some.

I really wanted to like this movie, or at least find it interesting but I’m afraid I didn’t. The violence and shocking images felt like they were just there for the sake of violence and barbarity. The plot, is in my opinion, is not told in a coherent manner and feels disjointed. Due to the graphic nature I can certainly see why this film tops lists of disturbing movies, but that doesn’t mean its good. If you are looking to experience the wave of French horror, I would recommend Frontiers or Haute Tension over this.

Afflicted (2014) Review

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Afflicted, a film by Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, is technically a found-footage movie but don’t let that stop you. It doesn’t have shaky-cam scenes or extreme close-ups like in The Blair Witch Project. I was pleasantly surprised by this 85 minute film. It is the first feature length film by Actor and Director team Derek Lee and Clif Prowse and won the Toronto International Film Festival award for Best Canadian First feature film.

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The less you know going into the film, the better. Lee and Prowse play best friends who go on a year long journey around the world and they film everything and post it on a travel blog they call “The Ends of the Earth”. Lee has a brain aneurysm that could pop at anytime and will shorten his life, so there is a sense of urgency to their travels. After a one night stand in Paris, Lee begins to feel ill and so the friends record all the new and alarming symptoms on video. Lee is pleased to find that there are some perks to his new illness. The trip eventually turns into a quest to find the woman Lee hooked up with.

There is much more to the plot, but the less you know, the better. The film features gorgeous scenery in Barcelona, Paris and a vineyard village in Italy. The special effects are well done, quite gory yet very realistic and the filmmakers effectively capture the feelings of helplessness and despair.

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My only issue with it would be that twice it relies on the cliched shot of something rushing the camera as if it were coming at the viewer. In addition, Prowse asks Lee way too many times if he is ok, when we can clearly see that he is not. These flaws do not, however, take away much from the film. I highly recommend this, as its a refreshing take on horror. It can’t really be pigeonholed into one category and it evolves throughout in terms of what the film makes the viewer feel and think. Surprisingly it did not get many high ratings on IMDB but I think that is because viewers and horror fans in particular have become too used to formulaic plots and scares. I’d love to hear feedback on how others liked the film. I plan on keeping a close eye out for this duo and what they make in the future.