Give and Take Five Year Old Horror
by Kristin Battestella
How do we rate the horror movie potluck from half a decade ago or thereabouts? Give or take a year or two for this mix of scares post-noughties – ranging from a fine vintage and not bads to the downright frigid.
Midnight Son – An aversion to sunlight, skin conditions, and the need for human blood make for a deadly quarter life crisis in this 2011 indie gem from Scott Leberecht (Life After Pi). There's not much dialogue early – and the DVD has deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries but no subtitles – yet the visual storytelling doesn't need anything uber talkative. Interesting schemes denote the false night time light with yellow lamps, neon accents, string bulbs, blue kitchen designs, and choice reds as the doctor diagnoses anemia, jaundice, and malnourishment. Rare steak isn't doing the trick, but the sight of blood on a bandage at the ho hum night security job gets the heart racing for something tasty. Early Google research moments get out of the way in favor of painting memories of the sun, solitary vampire movie watching, checking for fangs, testing for a reaction to crosses, and having a laugh at the clichés. Loneliness, street peddlers, deadbeats, and debt – life's already down on its luck so what's a little vampirism? The vampire vis-a-vis for drug use and life sucks may be trite today, but this allegory has an older, working protagonist stopping in the corner butcher for some blood by the pint to hide in his coffee cup. Companionship and fantastic possibilities can be found in unlikely places, and it's neat to see just how many things a basement dwelling vampire can really do at night. Although I like his bed with the blackout curtains, this is a potential turned bleak world – the natural awkwardness is understandable and casually realistic. Jacob's smart, talented, and just hampered by his...health problems...and an ER opportunist is willing to trade blood for a price. Rather than shock horror exploitative, we have an intimate, invested view for the increasing slurps, bloody makeouts, and desperateness. Quick camera flashes leave room for suggestion as bodily changes, night vision, infections, and love bites interfere with potential relationships, murder investigations, gallery possibilities, and you know, trying to get somewhere in life. Can you be a good and normal vampire or is amoral violence the only answer? Though plain to some with nothing super unexpected, the simple constructs echo the mature progression, honest drama, and self-aware focus without the need for horror spectacle. This is a fine story with a small but well rounded, multi-ethnic cast, and it's one of the best same writer/director pictures I've seen in a very long while.
The Cabin in the Woods – Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and more recognizable faces anchor this 2012 horror satire written and produced by Joss Whedon. Droll corporations and mysterious technological surveillance parallels the intentionally cliché coeds off to a lakeside weekend – the blonde, a jock, a virgin, the fifth wheel jester filled with zany pot wisdoms. Naturally, the GPS goes haywire amid retro Rving, backwoods confrontations, throwback tropes, and nods to old school slashers. The hokey isn't meant to be taken seriously, but eerie mountain tunnels and hidden systemworks add suspicion. Though at times cryptic for cryptic's sake, it's pleasing to have the experiment aspects up front – trick paintings, double mirrors, camera observations, and a cabin that's bigger on the inside than outside. Useless scenes, comedic quips, and windblown characters that delay rather than inform are annoying, and the attempted Buffy for the big screen tone is apparent with social commentary and upending the genre expectations. Ironically, these Initiative knockoffs never feel urgent or dramatic. Some viewers may wish this was either straight horror or totally from the scientific parody perspective. The global fright-creating branches are often more interesting than the typical teens disregarding warnings to not read Latin aloud amid zombies, free for all monsters, fun house mayhem, and meta on meta horror that plays into stereotypical scares just as much as it lampoons them. Fortunately, a self aware attitude adds intrigue – despite being up to something sinister, the technicians cast bemusing bets and celebrate their wins over predictable spooky cellars, creepy antiques, fanatical pasts, and ominous diaries. Occult prayers, bloody rituals, and creative set piece kills accent the inevitable price to be paid. While slow to start for longtime horror viewers, often silly or derivative, and uneven in its multi-layered execution, the familiar ensemble has a good time with this spooky puzzle. Youthful audiences tired of the same old scary movie banal or casual, horror lite fans can enjoy the uniqueness here.
You're Next – This 2011 slasher opens with an awkward sex scene and unnecessary nudity followed by not one, but two obligatory driving to the horror scenes. Loud boo shocks, false jumps, and jarring eighties crescendos detract from the subtle scares, creaky doors, and awkward family ominous. Likewise, the slow motion calls attention to itself amid shaky camerawork and hectic interference that needlessly deters from the increasing horrors and budding family drama. Screaming, shouts, and too many lookalike people add to the confusion, and the silent stalking, animal masked attackers, and mournful stillness is much more terrifying. Despite passé cameras, flip phones with no signal, and wow a multi-disc CD changer, the isolated Tudor home makes for a wonderfully uncomfortable setting for this trapped reunion of older protagonists and quirky characters arguing about who's the stupider shit amid major blood, chopping machetes, flying arrows, shattered windows, and slit throats. Good thing one girlfriend grew up in a survivalist commune! Most of the sardonic humor works – a guy spends half the movie with an arrow stuck in his back, no big – but a few quips deflate the scares at the wrong time. While hysterics in crisis are understandable, stupid horror movie mistakes, separations, and not checking everything or everyone weigh down the already predictable greed, bored millennial games, and talkative reveals that remove some of the hard fought menace. In addition to the busy camera and unpolished script, at times this masked assailants leaving messages for a kick ass heroine slasher siege plot feels uneven and déjá vu derivative. Fortunately, the one by one suspense, creepy masks, assorted imaginative kills, and gruesome kitchen tool uses create quality gore moments. Throwback touches accent the self-aware, satirical undercurrent, and a coming clean finale wraps up the wild aftermath and befitting horror irony.
Frozen – Not that one! Before there was Frozen, there was this 2010 ski resort escapade – which my husband said I probably wouldn't like. Indeed there's a lot going against this with obnoxious music, jerky attitudes, ski lift scams, a boyfriend proud to make his girl flirt to their advantage, and his jealous third wheel BFF. Playing in the snow, can't ski montages, and kiddie mountain safety contribute to the trio's awkwardness and lame arguing over skis or snowboards and cigarettes versus pot. The terrible slice of life dialogue and hollow conversation on the worst ways to die includes favorite cereals, Jaws, and Star Wars, because of course. Naturally, nobody goes skiing with their expensive phones, and nightfall and weather warnings are ignored so these yuppies can sneak passed quitting operators for one more huzzah. The mechanical creepy and equipment problems are ominous enough thanks to beautiful mountain snowscapes, bleak aerial photography, and up close overhead shots of dangerous gears, blades, and wires. Goggles, hats, and hoods invoke the brisk practical designs and chilly Utah locales while the lights out, howling winds, sleet, and thundersnow spell peril. Unfortunately, immature finger pointing and a going through the motions tone hamper the intriguing premise of being stuck on a ski lift for a week. Decoy snow truck rescues come too soon amid OMG boys admitting they are scared and people peeing themselves. The idea of jumping down is interesting, and frostbite, frozen appendages, critical gloves, and dropped gear are eventually addressed. However, the irony of breaking off an icicle to drink is never mentioned, nobody's butt ever gets numb, and the danger is not as intense as it should be due to increasingly unrealistic turns. Though quality, painful screams and injury gore can't overcome improbable wolf suspense and the stupidity of jumping legs first into an iced nighttime snowbank. You can't use a snowboard to set a broken leg? Why didn't they initially use their gear to zipline back down the lift instead of waiting to go by hand after its frozen? A big deal is made of smoking and matches to start but no one considers starting a signal fire? Can they still sue if they bribed the operator and were never really supposed to be there in the first place? Several intense moments can't save this not very well thought out script – another pair of eyes to point out the unbelievable errors or a stronger cast could have made the chill zing. I would rather have had the bleak silence and the realism of not seeing the actors' faces if it meant they actually zipped their hoods up all the way. Ultimately, the audience is given no reason to care and what should be a thrilling horror drama is more like a parable on how not to be a hipster skiing ass.