Director: Adam Wingard. Cast: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West. USA 2013, 95 mins.
Director Adam Wingard's much-heralded home-invasion mash-up isn't quite the genre game-changer it's been built up to be. (That accolade still resides with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS). But it certainly delivers a barrel load of visceral viciousness, wicked black humour, and in Sharni Vinson's Erin we have the finest final-girl to have fought her corner in years.
The Davison’s gather for a (rare) full family reunion to celebrate a wedding anniversary. It soon becomes painfully clear why they don’t hold reunions more often as the palpable tension and barbed comments overspill and seething resentments are laid bare across the dinner table. But just as the insults and recriminations really begin to fly, a crossbow bolt crashes through the dining room window and rather inconveniently embeds itself in one of the attendees. Understandably, panic ensues as it soon becomes obvious that the house is under attack and the only dish now on this dinner party menu is death.
Wearing (instantly iconic) animal masks – the faceless assailants proceed to infiltrate the house and embark on a programme of slaughter. Unfortunately for them, one of the guests is harbouring remarkable fighting qualities and embarks on her own campaign of violent resistance.
Director Wingard certainly has his finger on the pulse regarding audience expectations. Like a seemingly demented chess-master he manoeuvres the characters around the chessboard of clichés with unabashed glee – occasionally moving his ‘pawns’ into groan-inducing situations leading to clearly-telegraphed deaths – and then with his next move ‘check-mating’ the audience with an unsuspected sucker-punch plot-twist or revelation. For spoiler reasons I must keep my comments intentionally vague on these, but I will say that I found the first third of the film to be the most effective – before the screenplay’s trickiness really comes into play.
But then we have the outstanding Erin (Sharni Vinson) facing her would-be executioners with such lethal resourcefulness that a camp counsellor posting at Crystal Lake would surely hold no fear for this killer chick. From Aussie soap HOME AND AWAY to home invasion horror, whatever’s next for Ms.Vinson; I’d suggest a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for best actress is a cast-iron certainty just for starters...
With a minor but telling tongue-in-cheek role for fellow genre director Ti West, and the perfect treat of iconic genre favourite Barbara Crampton, Adam Wingard’s credit rating with fear fans must surely be riding high right now. (It was already assured in my eyes following his excellent 2010 offering A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE and his effective segment in V/H/S 2).
So in summary, trick or treaters have a new costume option available to them this Halloween – and film goers now have a perfectly credible option should they fancy a spot of crafty cinematic body-count mayhem.
***(out of 5*)
Director: Don Mancini. Cast: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif, Danielle Bisutti, Brennan Elliott, A Martinez. USA, 2013. 90 mins.
Chucky's back in this darker sixth instalment in the CHILD'S PLAY franchise. As someone who could never take Chucky remotely seriously I really enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek approaches of both BRIDE and SEED OF CHUCKY. But this time creator/writer and director Don Mancini has instead chosen to appease those fans who wished for Chucky to be 'scary' again.
Picking up after the events of CHILD'S PLAY 3, a package is delivered to the unsuspecting Nica - wheelchair-bound since birth - and her mother, who live in a gothic old house in the woods. A house which features one of those antique lifts, with metallic sliding shutters, which operates excruciatingly slowly and is guaranteed to fail just when the heroine needs it most...
Mancini builds a nice atmosphere of dread and expectation in the early sequences when Chucky first arrives. He holds back from revealing Chucky's true-nature as long as he possibly can - initially offering us little more than a widening glimmer in the doll's eyes. The arrival of Nica's family following a funeral provides everyone's favourite mannequin-from-hell with a sprinkling of potential victims and there's much fun to be had guessing whose going to be on the receiving end of Chucky's wrath first. (There's also an outrageous crowd-pleasing character revelation which is inspired).
The anticipation builds until finally Chucky can hold back the torrent of venomous profanities bubbling up behind those deceptively inanimate plastic lips no longer. The mayhem that ensues is fairly lack-lustre (with the exception of an early spectacular gore set-piece), but Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad) throws herself into her role as Nica and her tussles with Chucky are carried off with a reasonably convincing menace. A special mention is in order for the show-stealing turn from Danielle Bisutti as Nica's pantomime-villain sister Barb. And it almost goes without saying that Brad Dourif's voice-work is reliably on the money as always.
The denouement is surprisingly dark and the extended post-credit coda throws fans two delicious cameos and a lip-smacking pay-off which is arguably worth the price of admission alone.