By Kristin Battestella
‘Tis the season for another helping of mostly quality horror made this millennium!
The Awakening – I’m glad this 2011 ghost tale remains period and utilizes plenty of post-war traumas along with fun spiritualism and early ghost hunting gadgets, and a great, spooky English house turned boarding school keeps the paranormal pace going, too. Although some of the said supernatural equipment and unnecessary character clichés are a touch too modern, the fractured Dominic West (The Wire), perfectly nuanced Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter), needs no one Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and innocent Isaac Hampstead Wright (Game of Thrones) keep the audience interested even when the back story gets confusing towards the finale. Are these ghosts, personal demons and memories, or something more? There may not be enough scares here for a hardcore horror fan – and wise viewers may see through the bump in the night clichés and saucy innuendo thanks to similar ghost films. However, this mood and atmosphere does what it sets out to do and fits the pain, loneliness, and isolation perfectly. Those period designs, cars, clothing, creepy dollhouses, even the way they hold their cigarettes keep the dramatic before scary scenes classy. Despite some brief nudity and a few twists, there are no contemporary cheap thrills here, and the mystery is intriguing enough to keep the viewer invested for the full 100 minutes.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – Writer Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and new director Troy Nixey provide a perfectly freaky old house with lots of spooky trappings – and an ominous basement, of course – for Guy Pearce (Memento) and Katie Holmes (Batman Begins) in this atmospheric 2011 remake. Bailee Madison (Bridge to Terabithia) starts off annoying as a depressing little kid, and although the cast is likeable, the adults grow somewhat obnoxious for not believing her fears. Wise horror viewers will cringe at several what they should have done, shout at the TV moments, obviously ignored evidence, and actions not taken, granted. Typical horror clichés – the older person who was there, a library research montage, a party ruined by the creepy crawlies – are tiresome, too. Once the mysterious, malevolent tooth fairies are completely shown, a goofy stupidity detracts from the finely done suspense, darkness, and fears. This might have been more glorious as a monsters unseen period piece, as the Victorian opening scene is wonderfully creepy. The scares are there, but I’m not sure why this is Rated R thanks to a pleasant lack of gore, sexuality, or mature themes – today we have much harder PG-13 pictures it seems. After such a brooding, tense built up and somber pace, the ending comes too quickly with few explanations. Fortunately, there are some smart uses of darkness, light, flashlights, and good old fashioned but implausible Polaroids – not to mention very eerie little voices as well. The child in peril scenes are disturbing, and with the updated changes on the 1973 original, I honestly couldn’t predict how it would end. Though flawed in some spots, fans of the cast and Del Toro should take a look.
Slither – Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year Old Virgin), Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead), Jenna Fischer (The Office), and more recognizable faces anchor this 2006 sci-fi body horror funfest directed by James Gunn (Super). Rather than the unnecessarily gruesome or excessive laugh out loud slapstick often found in comedy horror attempts, this has the perfect amount of sardonic circumstances and redneck backwoods humor. The sarcasm immediately builds character and likeability – these townsfolk flip out, sure, but their behaviors are reasonable and understandable. The plot doesn’t merely go from one shocker to the next with characters doing dumb things in between and the nature of the beasties makes all the scares. Witty, ironic uses of Air Supply and country music establish the quirky atmosphere before the quality gore, worms, and creepy orifice scares make you cringe. Though this is most definitely not for animal lovers, the growth of the creepy crawlies, scale of the monstrosity, and pace of the investigation are well done. No contemporary technology or hipness gets in the way, yet the look is appropriately modern amid the rural isolation. There’s no excessive nudity or sex, either, and the SF action remains refreshing. Yes, other wormy titles like Shivers immediately come to mind, and the alien controlled zombies are redundant. There’s a post credits scene, too – but it isn’t as predictable or as expected as today’s cop out horror, and no lengthy opening credits waste time here. The winking awareness that this is a preposterous horror movie keeps the tone fun and light but no less freaky for the entire 95-minute ride.
House at the End of the Street – Too much of this 2012 thriller is spent on teens bands, icky music, hip lingo, cell phone tricks and other technology, lame party scenes, assy juvenile clichés, and a whiff of product placement to boot. It’s obvious that the eponymous creepy neighbor is too ala Psycho for comfort, plot holes become very apparent, explanations get tacked on, and people are too damn nosey, don’t listen, and do stupid things because they don’t know they are in a horror movie. The second half of the picture goes on too long and becomes a typically paced, shout at the TV abduction thriller, but despite herky jerky angles and shocks attempts, this isn’t really a horror tale. Weird modern blue tinting undoes other positive made to look old feelings and scary moments, too. Fortunately, Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) is likeable enough as the new teen in town and together with mom Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) anchors the suspense. Shue’s role is slightly similar to her part in Chasing Mavericks, but she has more effective teen daughter angst and issues here – and she’s mature and classy even when things aren’t always pretty. Thanks to rated and unrated versions adding to the plot confusion, perhaps this one should be seen at least twice. The fine cast does keep the watch entertaining, but mis-marketing and a trying too hard appeasement on too many genres divides the approach here. Either be a straight mother/daughter drama or a backwoods killer thriller already, whew.