12 September 2014

Film Review - The Guest (2014)

Psychological Thriller
Icon Distribution
Release Date:
5th September 2014 (UK), 21st August (FF2014)
Rating: 15
Running Time:
99 Minutes
Adam Winguard
Dan Stevens, Maika Munroe, Brenden Meyer, Lance Reddick

Never slow to pick up on the burning issues of the day, the horror genre is always ready to use hot topics to its own benefit. During the days of atomic testing in the 1950s, mutated insects roamed the planet in films like Them (1954). By the late 1970s when space was the new frontier, threats came from beyond the stars in big budget horrors like Alien (1979).

With this in mind it was only a matter of time before contemporary filmmakers looked to a subject which touches all our lives to some extent, for the basis of their work. In the new horror / thriller The Guest (2014) director Adam Wingard does just this, investigating the psychological and emotional effect modern warfare has on soldiers and their families to disturbing effect.

Laura and Spenser Peterson (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser), along with their teenage children Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyre), are struggling to accept the death of their older son Caleb in the war in Afghanistan. When ex-soldier David (Dan Stevens) appears on their doorstep one morning, claiming to be a friend of their dead son, Laura and Spenser find a sense of connection with Caleb by welcoming the stranger into their home. But is David all he seems? The Peterson family are about to discover to their cost that there is more to their new houseguest than meets the eye, and that his arrival will have terrifying consequences for them all.

In his first major starring role outside of television, Downton Abbey heartthrob Stevens stays just the right side of creepy as the outwardly benign David, who hides a nastily psychotic side beneath a deceptively caring facade. Monroe - last seen in the gritty drama Labor Day (2013) - also creates impact as the suspicious Anna into whose affections David insidiously worms his way. Small town America with all its 'apple pie' charm, as well as the claustrophobic frustration felt by its inhabitants, is wonderfully visualised on screen. The intensity of the setting is merely emphasised by the arrival of the enigmatic David, heightening the film's mounting air of disquiet.

It's always dangerous for a filmmaker to utilise techniques and set-pieces which - whilst not quite ripping off past classics shot for shot - are near enough in their visualisation to warrant accusations of, at best a lack of originality, and worst plagiarism. The final scenes of Wingard's film may fall short of the latter, but are never-the-less close enough in spirit to several outings from the golden age of 1980s slashers, to show a certain absence of inspiration. What was clearly meant as an homage to those teenager-in-peril landmarks, this film's climax is instead a pale imitation of the past. Which is a shame as the previous ninety minutes holds such promise.

The question of course arises as to the taste in the use of sensitive subjects matters - in this case the possible advancements in technological warfare - for what is, after all, mere entertainment. But since the horror genre is not widely known for its diplomacy in the handling of contentious issues, such thorny moral points are unlikely to trouble the consciences of the film's core audience of thrill seekers. Considering this, The Guest effectively delivers what is required of it, in a manner which it just manages to sustain until the final reel.

Cleaver Patterson

11 September 2014

DVD Review - The Cabin (2013)

DVD Release Date:
11th August 2014 (UK)
Rating: 18
Matt Thompson
Matt Thompson, Kimberly Alexander, Jesse Kristofferson
buy:The Cabin [DVD]

From the outset, there’s little consideration shown in Matt Thompson’s The Cabin. The film begins with the death of a native at the hands of some husky looking 17th century all-American bozos, then a tribe place a curse on the lands to get rid of the brutes, then a guy gets possessed and there’s a pretty cool practical effect of a head getting blown off, and after that the film gets worse and worse. A group of youngsters (led by Thompson himself who stars as Brett) unknowingly make their way to the site of this disaster to get hunted down by a force that possesses them one at a time and can flit between bodies whenever it needs.

Weirdly, The Cabin is one of the most pretentious films I’ve ever seen, swapping actual heart and depth of character/story with hollow, meaningless character interactions covered with overwrought acting and sound-tracking. The orchestral score appears leaps ahead of the rest of the film in terms of legitimacy but unfortunately only highlights the cracks in the feature. The fine music over bad acting and poor direction ends up looking like a mediocre YouTube piss-take of horror films.

Thompson himself plays the film’s lead character pretty well, doing better with acting than he does with direction. The film’s key problem is that it feels unanchored, there’s nobody watching the dalies and saying ‘this looks weird’, nobody reshooting the dodgy interactions or pointing the unfathomable plot sequence in one direction. For instance, at the twelve minute mark we are introduced to Brett’s hapless pals in a Goonies-style scene that unveils a suspect map. This scene enthusiastically brandishes the tonal misgivings of the feature, attempting to find a happy medium between foreboding, creepy, and humorous across a platter of shit friends, dull acting, and awful dialogue.

There are moments that aren’t that bad but everything feels too rushed to let you actually settle into the film’s flow. There’s some cool deaths but they are followed by weird chases or dialogue, basically if you find a scene or sequence that’s working for you, give it a minute and everything’s back in the air. This erratic flow, often the product of dodgy editing, provides a story where the complicated bits are just cut out, the difficult tension-building scenes milked in other films are just skimmed over here to make the load a little lighter, and that’s plain laziness. Also, if you take Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and compare it to this you’ll find a worrying frame for frame parallel that shows someone’s been far too influenced by a much smarter feature. Why? I can’t really say, its not like this film fits the Cabin structure or has anything to say about that film’s commentary, it just feels like someone is up for playing the imitation game.

If you really want to see something that blends ‘possession and revenge’, as the cover of the DVD proudly states, check out Michael S. Ojeda’s Savaged. Otherwise, dodge this messy feature.

Scott Clark

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