Friday, January 4, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Execution Confirmed

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.


Get the year started the right way: with a batch of horror movies.


MALEVOLENCE (2003)

There was a lot of hype for writer/director Stevan Mena's feature debut Malevolence in the online horror fan community during the build-up to the film's release, and looking back at it all these years later it's easy to see why. Mena displayed promising ability of his own while paying very obvious tribute to some beloved classics of the genre.

Malevolence is a blend of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th. After establishing an abandoned slaughterhouse and the adjacent farmhouse as the home base of a child-abducting serial killer with a flashback to 1989, the story jumps ahead to 1999, where it follows a quartet of hapless bank robbers that wander into the clutches of the serial killer. Add a dash of Reservoir Dogs into the mix, as the robbery doesn't go as smoothly as anyone had hoped, leading one of the robbers to slowly die of a gunshot wound and others to fight amongst themselves on the way to getting picked off by the killer.


Three of the bank robbers wear store-bought Halloween masks; the fourth simply wears a pillow case with eyeholes cut into it. He's the one who also takes a mother and her young daughter hostage on the way to the thieves' designated rendezvous point: that abandoned farmhouse. He's also the first of the group to cross paths with the serial killer, who takes his pillow case mask after murdering him. So we have a killer wandering around with a bag on his head like Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 (or like the Phantom Killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but this is more Jason-esque), while stalking potential victims like Michael Myers in Halloween, in a location that's reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, complete with strange artwork made of animal and human bones.

This killer takes his time stalking his victims. Even though the movie only runs 86 minutes, sometimes it can feel like it's dragging because the killer is oddly picky about when to strike. Why doesn't he attack one of the potential victims when he's walking close behind them in the dark night? Just because it builds suspense for the audience to have him walking behind them instead of attacking them. The same criticism could be leveled at Halloween, Michael Myers lets attack opportunities pass him by because he'd rather stalk someone instead, but the stalking was more effective in that film. And Michael Myers scored more kills than this guy does.

Speaking of "score", the score Mena himself composed for this film is one of its greatest assets. Fitting for a movie that lifts from the classics, it has music that sounds like it belongs to the '80s era Mena clearly has affection for.


Malevolence isn't very eventful, but there are a couple kills in here and some cool visuals, and by the end Mena has added a solid new entry to the slasher sub-genre while giving enough information on the killer to set up a situation that could be further explored in a prequel and a sequel. Being able to build your own trilogy, that's a success.

If you're a fan of the movies Malevolence paid tribute to but haven't seen this one yet, I would recommend seeking it out. It's worth a watch, and a new Blu-ray was just released in October.



WHAT STILL REMAINS (2018)

One criticism that has been leveled at the AMC television series The Walking Dead over the years has been that it doesn't feature enough zombie action. But what if the most common criticism of the show was the opposite, that zombies showed up and disrupted the character drama too often? And what if AMC responded by scaling back the number of zombies on the show until there were basically no reanimated corpses on The Walking Dead? (Hey, it could happen, because aren't the human characters the real walking dead on that show? Deep.) If that were to happen, the result would probably look something like writer/director Josh Mendoza's feature directorial debut What Still Remains, a film that's set a couple decades into what seems to have a been a zombie apocalypse, as there are vague references to an illness that turned people into terrifying creatures called The Changed. Yet we never see any of these Changed things. This is a post-apocalyptic zombie... or something... movie that has no zombies in it.

The lead character is 19-year-old Anna (Lulu Antariksa), who was born after the apocalypse began and has been raised in the wilderness by her family. After losing her remaining relatives right up front in the film, Anna is left alone to fend for herself - so she is vulnerable when handsome stranger Peter (Colin O'Donoghue) shows up at her front gate. With her mother's advice to find someone worth sharing life with lingering in her mind, Anna agrees to go with Peter when he returns to the village inhabited by the religious community he's part of.

Somewhere out there, apparently, are The Changed, but an opening chase sequence and scenes during Anna and Peter's journey to his community confirm what the true threat in this world is: other people. That's an idea I can totally get behind. George A. Romero was always telling us in his Dead films that other people were a greater threat than the zombies... But at least the people in his films were still sharing the screen with zombies. What Still Remains teases us with the idea that something's out there, then just leaves us hanging.

Some of the dangerous people are a group called Berserkers (I can't hear that word without a song from Kevin Smith's Clerks popping into my head), who are masked, blade-wielding maniacs. They're the flashier bunch, but my favorite scene in the film involved an encounter Anna and Peter have with a couple more down-to-earth fellows who want to take Anna for themselves. Their interaction provides a great couple minutes of tension, because we know this situation is going to fall apart but we can't be sure exactly how bad it's going to get.


As a regular viewer and reviewer of The Walking Dead, the talk of joining a community had me immediately bracing myself to see something underwhelming, as that show has recently run itself into the ground by dealing with the idea of communities working with or waging war on each other. Indeed, the stretch of the film that takes place at the religious community did prove to be kind of dry, despite the fact that two of the main characters there are played by Mimi Rogers and (The Walking Dead alum) Jeff Kober. It was good to see them show up, but while it's obvious that there's something strange going on with this group and Anna made a mistake joining up with them, the film doesn't really live up to the potential of the idea.

What Still Remains takes its time getting Anna to the religious community - almost half of the 92 minute running time. Once it's there, however, the place doesn't seem to be quite worth the wait. The film probably would have benefited from getting Anna to the village quicker and spending more time delving into the community's characters and inner workings. When information is revealed, it is unsettling, but overall I wasn't drawn into what was going on. The presentation was too low-key, the pacing too slow, it all felt superficial.

That feeling extends to the climax, where things are wrapped up in a quick, simple, unsatisfactory manner.

If you watch The Walking Dead, comparisons to that show will likely be unavoidable when you're watching What Still Remains. In the end, though, you have to set aside any thoughts of that series, and any bias you may have regarding post-apocalyptic communities because of it, and judge this film on its own terms. Doing that, I found it to be watchable but bland.

Technically speaking, this is an exceptionally well made movie. It looks great, and has an appealing Western vibe. There are interesting concepts within the story, and the cast does a terrific job with what they were given to work with. The script just didn't give them quite enough to work with - there's a feeling that this could have been a better, more entertaining film than it is. If Mendoza had explored some of the concepts further, this could have been better than the middle-of-the-road film that it is.

The review of What Still Remains originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com



KING'S GAME (2011)

Directed by Norio Tsuruta, King's Game is a Japanese film that's based on a series of novel that also served as the basis of an anime series. I haven't read the novels or watched any of the anime, but I did find Tsuruta's film to be fairly interesting and entertaining.

The story centers on a specific class of high school students who start getting text messages from someone called The King, with no indication of who this King is or where they're from. After first these messages demand that they complete a series of increasingly sexual tasks, and if the King isn't obeyed they will be punished. One student completes the task of telling a girl in class that he likes her. Another pair of students complete the task of kissing each other. The instant the students do these things, the King somehow knows, confirmed by a message that says "Execution confirmed". But when a boy in the class doesn't complete the task of touching a certain girl's breasts, it's time for a punishment. The King erases them from existence. Literally.

Although the memory of those two students remains in the minds of their classmates, their images disappear from the class photo like Marty McFly's siblings in the picture he carries around in Back to the Future, and no adults can remember them, similar to something that happens in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel Freddy's Dead.

Next a pair of students are ordered to have sexual intercourse, even though the girl already has a boyfriend. Now they know they can't refuse to comply, because there is something supernatural going on here. From there, things get further out of control, as it becomes clear that the King is intent on making students disappear no matter what.

King's Game is a kind of silly and clunky, but I was intrigued by the concept and it held my attention for the duration - which was only 82 minutes, so it was an easy watch. I don't know how the set-up could sustain multiple novels or episodes of an animated series, but it filled the 82 minutes of this film just fine.



THE RITUAL (2017)

Paramount Pictures recently had a five year window to make as many Friday the 13th movies as they could before the rights lapsed back to New Line Cinema, and during that five year period they managed to make zero Friday the 13th movies. If a movie had come out of that development hell, the director who was attached to the project for most of that time was David Bruckner; and Bruckner even oversaw the writing of a script that could have made for a hell of a Friday the 13th movie if it had been revised instead of rejected, the Nick Antosca draft. When Paramount and production company Platinum Dunes decided not to move forward with that draft, they gave Bruckner the chance to move on to other projects, and he took it. Breck Eisner came on as the new director, Aaron Guzikowski wrote a new script, the project was cancelled, Paramount lost the rights, and original Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller took each other to court to decide which them should own the franchise from now on.

While F13 descended into drama and lawsuits, Bruckner was off actually getting a movie made; The Ritual, based on a novel by Adam Nevill (Joe Barton wrote the screenplay adaptation). It's not a Friday the 13th movie or even a slasher, but it is a film about a group of friends being picked off one-by-one by something that dwells within a forest, so it does seem like something that allowed Bruckner to do some things he might have done on his F13.

The story centers on a quartet of longtime friends who have taken a hiking trip on the Sweden/Norway border to honor a friend who would have loved this sort of thing. Their vacation turns into a living nightmare - literally, they start hallucinating nightmarish scenarios - when they decide to take a shortcut through a very dense forest. They pass trees that have strange symbols carved into them, investigate a crumbling cabin that has a disturbing shrine built in one room, discover items left behind by people who vanished more than 30 years ago, and soon realize they're being stalked by a monstrous beast... a creature that we eventually see has a really interesting and unique design.

The Ritual is a decent watch that held my interest, but what I got out of it most of all was the enjoyment of getting to see a potential Friday the 13th director make a woodsy horror movie. I wish Bruckner had made an F13 working from a reworked version of the Antosca script. The Ritual doesn't make up for that F13 not existing, but at least Bruckner got to make a solid horror movie anyway.

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