Thursday, 30 July 2015

INVOKED

Directed by Humberto Rosaand Thairon Mendes, Starring: Patrick Murphy, Ciara Rose Burke, Lynn Larkin. Horror, UK, 2015, 85mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD on 17th August 2015 by Left Films.

Five Irish twentysomethings set out for a weekend jaunt to stay at a youth hostel on a remote island off the coast of Ireland: reachable only (it seems) by rowing boat. Arriving cold and wet, they find the hostel deserted: and the electricity’s out. Lighting a fire, some candles, and some spliffs, they decide to pass their first boozy night away by holding a séance (as you do). The upturned glass whisks briskly around the table spelling out the phrase ‘my children’ in response to the question: ‘what do you want?’...

Oh dear. Yet another wobble cam found footage snore fest, offering nothing remotely original in exchange for its migraine-inducing handheld shake and back cinematography. Every cliché and limitation associated with the found footage format is present and correct in this film’s tortuously dull 85 minutes of tedium. My heart sank the moment the title card appeared to explain that what we are (unfortunately) about to sit through is: “...evidence pertaining to the case of 5 people that went missing...This footage has been leaked to the public...” blah, blah Blarney Stone.

You could easily fast-forward to the 50 minute mark without missing anything scary (actually you could skip right through to the end-credits and still not miss anything genuinely frightening).

It’s not that I take exception to its old well worn set-up: groups of kids in remote setting (near a creepy burial ground!) muck about with things they shouldn’t and accidentally invoke evil spirit. It’s just that in this case there’s absolutely no attempt to inject even the merest hint of freshness or even self-awareness into the script. All you get is a bunch of non-descript young things shouting and screaming non-stop whilst inexplicably keeping their video cameras jiggling around as they run from one dimly-lit room to another. (Side note: if you’ve just seen a ghost whilst filming on your (non)steadicam – and your mates don’t believe you – why not just rewind the tape and show them it through the viewfinder?)

So what do they actually capture on film? Is someone suddenly dragged backwards down a corridor? Why yes – how did you guess? Is there a girl with long black hair wearing a long white robe that turns suddenly and transforms her face into a generic long-droopy face CG demon scream? Why yes there is, oh you’re good! We also get some chairs tossed across the floor, some supernatural rising damp creeping along the walls, and something scuttling down a tree in the pitch black woods. I couldn’t really make it out – perhaps it was a possessed squirrel? 

If you like found footage flicks, check out Adam Green’s DIGGING UP THE MARROW for a genuinely engaging take on the format. Sadly, INVOKED only invokes yawns.

*(out of 5*)


Paul Worts

Thursday, 23 July 2015

EAT

Directed by Jimmy Weber, Starring: Meggie Maddock, Ali Francis, Maru Garcia. Horror, US, 2014, 87mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD and VOD on 27th July 2015 by Monster Pictures.

“Sorry sweetie, eat your heart out”.
It’s tricky trying to write a spoiler-free review about a film with the tagline: “The story of a girl who finds herself – and then eats herself.” The ‘girl’ in question is 30-something peroxide blonde Novella McClure (Meggie Maddock), a struggling LA actress who hasn’t landed a role in 3 years and whose fridge is practically bare. Trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of failed auditions, boozy nightclubs with best-buddy Candice and morning hangovers, Novella is in a very low place. To make matters worse, she’s 3 months overdue with the rent and previously patient landlady Eesha has slapped an eviction notice on her apartment door. What’s a girl to do?  How about absentmindedly chewing on her finger, then tearing off a whole stringy strip of flesh before passing out and ending up in hospital on ‘suicide watch’ for starters...?

Writer/director/editor Jimmy Weber’s first feature film is a glossy, visually appealing character study of a woman’s descent into despair, madness and ultimately self-destruction amidst the maelstrom of an image-conscious society and an endless sea of male scumbags. Much of the films visual appeal is provided by striking lead actress Meggie Maddock as blonde bombshell Novella, a role she quite literally gets to sink her teeth into. Then there's Ali Francis’ best-buddy ‘Candice’, an emotional powder keg with a handgun in her handbag that she’s not afraid to use.

The script offers up some amusingly bitchy back-stabbing exchanges between Novella and her (seemingly) arch-nemesis ‘Tracy’- who appears to be constantly stealing her roles. It doesn’t however scratch too deep below the surface as to what’s actually going on in Novella’s head, and ultimately I felt (somewhat ironically) under-nourished by its end.

The small-scale gore effects by Monster Makeup FX are suitably wince-inducing, and lead Maddock certainly sells the latex with gusto.
Reading the synopsis beforehand, it reminded me of the delightfully gruesome short story by Stephen King entitled ‘Survivor Type’, in which a man stranded on a desert island proceeds to eat himself. EAT is not that extreme, but it does cough up some memorably gory nuggets. The amusingly dark guignol finale particularly tickled my palette, as did the pleasingly inevitable post-credits shot.

EAT is not perhaps a full-on three-course gourmet feast, but it’s nevertheless a reasonable nibble if you’ve a taste for an indie body-horror snack.  

***(out of 5*)             

Paul Worts

Monday, 20 July 2015

SHARK KILLER

Directed by Sheldon Wilson, Starring: Derek Theler, Erica Cerra, Paul du Toit, Arnold Vosloo. Action, Thriller, US, 2015, 84mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD on 20th July 2015 by Image Entertainment.

“This isn’t Flipper we’re talking about here!”
Shark killer Chase Walker is enlisted by brother Jake to hunt down a Great White Shark (helpfully identifiable by its black fin) who rather inconveniently swallowed a rare diamond belonging to him (well, sort of). By sort of, I mean Jake was originally employed to steal it for rival crime overlord Nix but Jake double-crossed him. Nix, understandably aggrieved by this betrayal, also wants Chase to erm, chase down the shark and retrieve it for him instead. In order to help persuade Chase to switch allegiances he orders the kidnapping of Jake’s smart and sultry lawyer Jasmine (who Chase is smitten by). Can our hero pluck plucky legal babe Jasmine from the jaws of evil fish-gutting Nix whilst also plucking the treasured diamond from the deadly jaws of the black-finned Jaws?

Yes folks we’re deep into Syfy channel territory with this cheesy B’movie mash-up of crime thriller and shark fest. Shark hunter ‘Chase Walker’, played by Derek Theler (Chris Pratt/Jamie FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Dornan lookalike) hates the ocean (there’s a back-story but frankly who cares?), and owes his life somewhat implausibly to his weedy brother Jake (Paul du Toit). Yet more implausible still, despite being an apparent shallow womaniser, Chase is actually a man of hidden depths and no woman, not even our seemingly level-headed lawyer ‘Jasmine’ (Erica Cerra – think Mrs Amal Clooney) can resist his roughish charms indefinitely.  Hell, even the shark seems attracted to Chase as the script implies it’s stalking him at one point (JAWS: THE REVENGE This time it’s personal’ anyone?).

Thankfully the poor misrepresented Great White isn’t on screen for long as it appears to have been cut and pasted directly from DEEP BLUE SEA (bring back rubbery ‘Bruce’ from the original JAWS any day). Even FINDING NEMO’s ‘Bruce’ was more convincing – case in point, the stalking sequence through the sunken wreck – played out here half heartedly – musters less genuine menace than Pixar’s animated effort. I did however love this fascinating insight into shark behaviour from Chase at one point: “She’s marking her territory”. Eat your heart out ‘National Geographic’.

Back on dry land (where this film remains grounded for far too long given its premise), Paul du Toit (‘Toit’ is how his character Jake would pronounce ‘tight’ in his intentionally fake South African accent by the way) undergoes a startling uneven character arc which swings wildly between ruthless evil gang boss and Joe Pesci-like comedy sidekick. Arnold (THE MUMMY) Vosloo channels Donald Pleasence’s evil Bond villain ‘Blofield’ (minus the white pussycat) and is given a gloriously over-the-top send-off burnt to a crisp and harpooned.

SHARK KILLER is of course complete tosh - but it just about manages to keep its head above the water without sinking to the depths of deploying a tornado...  
**(out of 5*)
      
Paul Worts

(This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website)