Contemporary Werewolves, Vampires, and Ghosts, Oh My!
By Kristin Battestella
Despite the abundance of low budget, poor quality scary film fair, not all modern horror pictures are that bad. Here’s a few slightly feminine wolfys, vamps, and paranormal creepies giving some hope to recent horror productions – and one stinker, of course.
Byzantium – Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) and Saiorse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) anchor this 2013 vampire spin from director Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) co-starring Jonny Lee Miller (Hackers), Maria Doyle Kennedy (The Tudors), and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class). The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt (Hunger) is intriguing, and a golden, antique patina contrasts the bitter daylight, nightclubs, boarded windows, and harsh concrete. Ironic uses of Etta James standards and melancholy piano music add to the slight sense of abstract– the contemporary still has a feeling of the past in old décor, fedoras, and aged computers. Nostalgic paper, pens, and handwriting or scandalous red lights and saucy lingerie establish the ladies’ personalities better than the in medias res mellow narration, which takes too long for viewers who didn’t know this movie would be about vampires. Fortunately, Arterton is sexy yet deadly and nude yet refined – she’s a killer in every sense of the word but bizarrely maternal, loving, and considerate. Although Ronan’s depressing, woe is me burdens are a bit much, her somber, hypnotic blue eyes are classy and bittersweet. Her flashbacks provide interesting snippets of period piece macabre; the past wasn’t glamorous but dirty, grimy, and violent thanks to Miller. Clearly, the emo Eleanor just wants attention, and those ready to die recognize her for what she is. Aren’t there better ways to go about your hidden existence until disbelieving authorities, prodding schools, and teen angst disrupt it? Each vampire seems trapped in easy, cliché mindsets from centuries ago – nobody can learn anything or mature in 200 years? The fine but disorienting flashback within flashback and non-linear two hours make the audience wonder why writer Moira Buffini (adapter of the 2011 Jane Eyre, where the flashback pacing worked wonderfully) didn’t put the storytelling in order or tighten the slightly long and uneven vampire mythos instead of calling attention to the hip framework. Brief shots of the seemingly aware police in pursuit go unexplained until the finale, and perhaps the plot should have been all period or totally present. Thankfully, the brooding feminine spin, artsy blood and gore, and a unique vampire creation and organization combine alongside the subtle but expected sharp nails, wrist bites, and jokes about fangs or daylight. These ladies dab the blood from their lips, quietly wait for the invitation to enter, get tempted by the sight of blood and injury, take the lives of the ill or elderly – and they watch Hammer movies! This isn’t scary, and the assorted accents and Brit-ness may bother some. However, this isn’t a sparkly teeny bopper love triangle either. The viewer doesn’t always know what happens next in the intense finish, and this tale makes for a surprising, worthy piece of vampire storytelling.
(Ironically, I must say, I have a 2008 novel about a family of vampires that goes back and forth with flashbacks and varies points in time, too, hehe.)
Ginger Snaps – This quality Canadian horror drama will be too teen girl angst for some adult male audiences; it’s not for animal lovers and today, such teen sex, drug uses, school violence, juvenile morbidity, and obsessions with death would land sisters Katharine Isabelle (American Mary) and Emily Perkins (Hiccups) in serious hot water. Director John Fawcett (The Dark) and co-writer Karen Walton’s (Orphan Black) puberty is horror theme, however, was new during the Y2K era and this Red Riding Hood equals Big Bad Wolf combination fits the solid coming of age progression and lycanthrope twists. Unlike recent in your face horror clichés, there’s sexy here without cheap nudity, the handsome blood and gore isn’t too gory, and the non-CGI wolf get ups are well done. The sharp editing isn’t hectic or seizure inducing, and the likeable, witty, sardonic characters are given full room to blossom or wax irony– the go to expert on wolfs bane is the town’s resident pot dealer! The audience doesn’t know how far the scares and suspense will escalate or if this sisterly core can survive the wolfy puberty. Unfortunately, there is a big, slightly unsatisfying problem with the typical house under construction chase finale and all the potentially worthy plot lines and red herrings left hanging in its wake. How much did quirky mom Mimi Rogers (Someone to Watch Over Me) really know? She’s giddy on periods and womanhood and just happens to buy the deadly poison needed at a craft store – seriously? Deleted scenes and extended DVD editions once again rear their head here, but none of that answers one very critical question: Who’s the original dang wolf? Yes, this lovely werewolf build up and fine feminine sisterhood feels imbalanced in the end, however this is a great, morbid teen thriller for budding macabre young ladies.
Mama – Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) lead this 2013 scary fairy tale from producer Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), director Andres Muschietti and co writers Barbara Muschietti (from their original Mama short film) and Neil Cross (Luther). Dangerous snowy roads, car action, and police radio immediately establish the isolated cabin and wooded perils for these adorable little girls and their innocent statements. Firelight only scenes, dark surroundings, and creepy noises accent the almost livable but messy designs and wild child state of mind. Eerie observation rooms, case study reports, medical analysis, and research montages anchor the scary amid a reality of courtrooms, technology, and red tape. Some of the brighter colors do seem too pretty or oversaturated; however, pleasing shadows, reflections, and flicking lights keep the spooky subtle. Megan Charpentier (Resident Evil: Retribution) and Isabelle Nelisse (Whitewash) create an excellent mix of sympathy and disturbing – their child artwork, whispers, and games are both cute and eerie along with moth symbolisms and leaf motifs. Although she has stunning eyes and cheekbones, Chastain doesn’t quite fit her character’s short, dark hair and punk style. Her attitude and problem with kids feels fake or without cause, and she’s more worried about her own safety then helping these girls. Her Annabel is more like a stunted teen babysitter, complains this isn’t her job, and what bass we hear from her isn’t that good. Psychiatrist Daniel Kash (Hannibal) is right when he tells her to grow up, but he also foolishly doesn’t share all his case findings. Is this film about a doctor and a woman trying to help in this unique child tale or is it about scaring the obligatory but rocker babe? Realizations come too easy, the rules of the scares change, the motivation or abilities of the entity become purely opportune, convenient file folders and information are stolen without consequences, and research ladies who claim to not know anything sure do drop a load of exposition. The bump in the night scares or jump moments are typical don’t look in the closet, haunted house hijinks, and the extra boom chords and flashes of light are unnecessary, for the audience only ploys when the troubling video sessions with the girls or seeing and hearing their reactions suffice. The CGI also looks iffy and dark, and though fittingly eerie, askew and distorted coma visions and dreamy flashbacks look cartoonish. Most of all, however, I’m disappointed that the rental blu-ray is full of previews and shows the menus and features before blocking them with “This disc is intended for rental purposes and only includes the feature film.” Hmph. There is a nice pace, mood, and atmosphere here, but the lack of answers, plot holes, and thinly drawn characters will be too much for some viewers to ignore. I mean, not only do the psychology and relationship possibilities fall prey to womanly doing right by the spirit sacrifices, but explanations to the authorities are never considered and what happened to the &^$#% dog? Longtime horror viewers won’t be fooled by the surprising moments and twists here, but fortunately, there is enough child likability and ghostly traditional style for a disturbing watch or two.
Metamorphosis – A promising Elizabeth Bathory narration, Hungary 1610 period fine, and a firelight sweet palette rush to start this 2007 vampire tale before jumping into the present day with a superstitious funeral, great cemetery iconography, and screeching owls. On location country sides and castle filming add authenticity while crosses shake in the presence of vampires for a unique spin. Christopher Lambert (Highlander) has a lot of fun here – even when the script fails him with clichés, jokes, and bad quips ad nauseam. Lambert and family vampire curses past and present would have been enough to carry the 90 plus minutes here, but unfortunately, obnoxious BMW driving youth and their bad acting takes over most of the time. Their gallivanting is of course due to the cliché book research excuse, and a lot of plot holes and not a lot of writing ensue with Corey Sevier (North Shore) and Irena A. Hoffman (House of Flesh Mannequins). The younger cast simply seem like they are in a different, wooden, mess of a movie compared to the classy or seriousness from the elder monks or nuns at hand, and I’ve never wanted to fast forward thru such a moodless, laughable, candlelit sex scene so much in my life. The hip dialogue and delivery from the juvenile ensemble is completely unbelievable and jarring rad cool mixed with past speaketh. The entire Bathory descendants plot and purgatory talk is woefully obvious to the viewer, and it’s tough to find sympathy when the kid cast is waxing historical or mocking what we’ve already seen. The setting should have stayed in the past or gotten to the atmospheric trapped in a scary castle mood much, much sooner. Half the cast, all the comic relief, and the lame excuses disguised as twists should have been excised in favor of explanations and clarifications. Bad fang and eyes effects, pathetic faux Fu, hardly any blood, woeful staking effects, crappy car accident action, and painfully apparent post accident twists are simply too stupid to get past unless you can have a good time laughing along with Lambert.