Recent Horror Positives
by Kristin Battestella
Though not shining examples of perfection and not always truly scary, this quartet of paranormal thrills and chills adds a few recent feathers to the horror genre's cap.
The Deaths of Ian Stone – Say hey, British people do play ice hockey you know – but the brief hockey filming here is totally fake, made to look cool and in your face when hockey needs no extra flash editing. Fin rant. Is it coincidence or bad luck when the clocks don't work, the game is lost, and nothing goes your way? The eponymous Groundhog's Day circumstances establish the sense of foul afoot quickly with dangerous railroad tracks and rainy mishaps. Though the cast looks a little too young to have serious financial corporate jobs, the weird, seemingly similar but differing realities hook the audience without resorting to a juvenile tone. Realizations, clues, and memories come to light as things just don't add up, and it's neat to hear repeated dialogue in different contexts with each death reset. Strange voices, shady demons, and eerie faces increase – who is killing Ian and forcing him to relive a variety of deaths and why? There is a certain Final Destination-esque design but the simmering ominous proves different as each vignette escalates to its inevitable end. The lengths vary on each life as well, some situations last longer than others while the circumstances get worse. Of course, mobile service conveniently cuts out (but hey, there were phone booths not so long ago!) and the black shadowy effects look too Harry Potter Dementors at times, but the demons are tolerable because the focus isn't on them or any unnecessary sweeping reveals and torture gruesome. Darkness and lighting schemes, scary hospital equipment, snarling, and sharp, knife like appendages do more in creating peril. While some of the exposition and explanations lose steam in the end, turning convoluted between love and light or life and death, the lure and conflict remains interesting. On which side does Ian belong? The sinister frame creates enough entertainment for this personal man versus his nature spooky.
Honeymoon – The wedding video to start this 2014 newlywed tale featuring Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful) feels cheesy and contrived – today's unnecessary, pedestrian exposition even if it is the shrewd, cheap way to avoid filming a big wedding scene. The pretty lakeside and isolated cabin with no cell phone reception, however, makes things difficult for the seemingly insufferable couple. It turns out the hot and heavy young lovers don't know the big things they should know about each other before the nuptials, such as their thoughts on children, not to mention cooking abilities, surprising outdoor skills, sleepwalking, and you know, if one of them has ever killed anything. Fortunately, the conversations are honest with genuine dialogue creating parallels on how marriage, the prospect of family, or two becoming one can be difficult adjustments for some to make. It is tough to discern where this takes place – French quips and hockey references hint of a Canadian bizarre – but the intimate setting and small ensemble work well with no need for major effects or crazy film making to build the suspicious atmosphere. There's a touch of equal opportunity nudity, too, but that lack of history, jealousy, and alpha male comparisons crack the idyllic as the strange lights, electrical buzzing, mysterious skin marks, and missing persons increase. This does take a half hour to get interesting, people stupidly go off into the dark woods unprepared, the twist is somewhat obvious, and a convenient security camera serves as a research montage moment, but thankfully, the characters remain interesting as the sex and marital discord turns into paranoia. It's not perfect but the mood and performances do a lot with minimal set pieces, and the time here is enjoyable and worth seeing through as the crazy and bloody escalates.
Horns – Sunshiny, sometimes saucy flashbacks and seemingly good childhood fun quickly turns into a bleak pad, dorky Gremlin car, angry protests, and heaps of judgment for Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in this two hour paranormal mystery. His Seattle DJ Ig – complete with some kind of strange accent – is accused of murdering his girlfriend, and mysterious fires, missing evidence, legal technicalities, and local lynch mob mentalities contribute to the persecution. Although the flashbacks smartly come during surgical sleep, hallucinations, or mystical and drugged stupors, the intermittent narration may not help much and the subtitles don't match the dialogue. Religious questions, turning away from God debates, and the inability of faith to save one from murder aren't explored in full depth and more Biblical references feel reduced by perhaps unnecessary comedic scenes regarding the titular growths. Some of the mythos and explanations are sloppy, questionable plot points could have been tighter, and perhaps there isn't a lot of rewatchability once the case is solved. The uneven mix of spiritual and comedy should have been decided one way or the other as well, smoothing the bumpy spots and creating a deeper and more nuanced drama. Fortunately, the devilish pain and angelic retribution over love and suffering are felt nonetheless as the nonchalant horn reactions reveal surprising truths regarding affairs, sexual proclivities, drug use, and your garden variety evil tendencies. The bizarre and supernatural investigation doesn't shy away from humorous, frank, and twisted parental truths, and the horns themselves and more snake and pitchfork devilish attributions grow as the the mystery unfolds. Ig's use of his truth revealing power doesn't always work to his advantage in this freaky form of justice, but one and all face their demons in this entertaining little piece.
Starry Eyes – Creepy menus, thumping music, and heavy breathing start this 2014 partially Kickstarter funded but no less impressive horror look at life imitating art Hollywood cult and cutthroat. From one overambitious waitress pulling her hair out after bad readings and frenemy actress competition to wannabe director pervs at parties and everyone with a script looking to get a girl on the casting couch, the disrobings for the camera and bright spotlights remain uncomfortable and untrustworthy before the nasty and scares. Suggestive evening meetings with an icky old man producer and encouragement in forgoing inhibitions to get ahead in the rat race of fame reflect on real life ambitions and creepy sex for roles as the ugly, primal desperation increases, bizarre extremes escalate, and sinister gruesome mounts. The naive, awe moments and slow motion pretty do get too far from the horror possibilities at times, and the acting commentary and movie making dreams sometimes feel pretentious or heavy handed. Some dialogue becomes too much interfering voice from co-writers and directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (Identical Dead Sisters) where the brainwashing and ritualistic taking the place of actual sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll destruction already does plenty. The secondary male cast also seems weak and the girls feel too much of the unlikeable same, but fortunately, Alexandra Essoe (Tales of Halloween) is a fine, relatable anchor carrying the piece, be it hopeful or horrific. Very brief nudity, lingerie suggestions, and just enough gore keep from being excessive – no extreme music or in your face editing distracts from the slow, dirty, tough, and bloody death scenes. I'm rarely squeamish, but some of decomposing body horrors got me! Though the intercutting can be confusing, voiceovers are unnecessary, and there may be a few plot holes, this was surprisingly better then some wider releases and supposedly bigger horror outings.